MANSFIELD — Highland Park wasn’t fazed by a 13-point deficit in the first quarter. After all — nine months removed from winning a state title — this team has plenty of experience under pressure.
The Scots battled back after a slow start, capping their comeback with a Matteo Cordray field goal with 28 seconds left to defeat Mansfield Timberview 34-32 on Thursday at Newsom Stadium.
HP picked up its first road victory of the season in dramatic fashion, providing some momentum entering next week’s District 15-5A opener at Lovejoy.
Cordray’s late heroics might have provided the game-winning points, but the Scots also received a boost from the return of Paxton Alexander, who missed last week’s game with an injury, and from another efficient night by John Stephen Jones.
Jones threw for just 150 yards but had four touchdowns. One of those went to Alexander, who tallied 200 all-purpose yards — leading HP in both rushing (130) and receiving (70) yardage.
“We’ve got some guys who have been in championship games before,” said HP head coach Randy Allen. “We’re not a bunch of individuals. We’re just a team that wants to win, and guys are going to play their role.”
The Scots (2-1) trailed 19-7 late in the first half when the defense provided a huge momentum shift by forcing the first of two Timberview turnovers. After an HP punt, Ryan Coxe caused a fumble and Hudson Clark recovered at the Wolves’ 18-yard line.
Just three plays later, Jones found Scully Jenevein on a 7-yard scoring pass to cut the deficit to 19-14.
Timberview went three-and-out, and a short punt gave the Scots favorable field position in the final minute of the second quarter. They capitalized with a 31-yard Cordray field goal as time expired, and trailed by just two points at the break.
HP continued its surge to open the third quarter, when Timberview’s opening drive ended with Cole Jackson’s interception on a fake punt.
The Scots then drove 70 yards, found the end zone on a 3-yard pass from Jones to Alexander, tacked on a two-point conversion, and led 25-19.
The Wolves (1-2) relied heavily on their ground attack in the second half, attempting just three passes after halftime. Jyron Russell scored on a 1-yard plunge to open the fourth quarter, putting Timberview back in front 26-25.
The Scots responded with an impressive 75-yard drive, the first 73 of which came on eight consecutive running plays. Jones capped the possession with a 2-yard touchdown pass to Benner Page, on a clutch fourth-down throw, giving HP a 31-26 advantage.
Timberview then turned to speedy freshman Montaye Dawson, who eluded the HP defense during six carries on the next possession. His 3-yard touchdown run sent the Wolves a 32-31 lead with just 2:57 left.
On the pivotal possession that followed, HP relied heavily on Jones and Alexander — two key contributors during last season’s championship run. The ensuing drive reached the Timberview 10, and after a delay-of-game penalty, Cordray drilled the game-winner through the uprights from 32 yards away against a stiff breeze.
“He’s made a tremendous improvement from his junior to his senior year,” Allen said. “You want a guy with poise and confidence, and a guy that wants the pressure. Matteo’s a guy we all believe in.”
The Scots appeared out of sync early, as Jones completed just one of his first six passes with an interception.
Timberview’s Trevon Russell returned the errant throw to the HP 19-yard line, setting up the first score for the Wolves on a 9-yard run by Stacy Sneed. Timberview added rushing touchdowns on its next two possessions — a 1-yarder by Russell and a 39-yard scamper by Sneed.
The Scots scored their first touchdown on a 13-yard strike from Jones to Carson Bryant early in the second quarter. Jones found seven different receivers with his 16 completions in the game.
The matchup proved considerably more competitive than last year’s meeting, which the Scots won 31-0 at Highlander Stadium.
“Their plan was great, and they had the people to do it,” Allen said of the Wolves. “It just happened to be whoever had the ball last and could make a play toward the end.”
Sneed led the Wolves with 86 rushing yards on just seven carries before exiting with an apparent injury. Russell added 66 yards and Dawson finished with 51.
HP wrapped up nondistrict play with a 2-1 mark, the same as a year ago, and Allen is optimistic that the Scots will be prepared for the rigors of the 15-5A slate.
“We’ve played three quality football teams with three good quarterbacks, three good running backs with big offensive linemen, and we’ve played three good defenses with athletes who can run,” Allen said. “We’ve been tested. We know now that every game is for a playoff spot and for a district championship.”