Highland Park is headed back to the playoffs, and the defense certainly appears to be ready.
The Scots blanked Forney in the first half on Friday at Highlander Stadium, cruising to a 35-13 win to clinch their 30th consecutive postseason berth.
HP is still in the driver’s seat for the District 15-5A title, as well, a milestone it could achieve with a victory next week at Royse City.
Despite four turnovers, the Scots were able to roll to their seventh straight win thanks to some terrific defense and an offense that got into gear following a slow start.
John Stephen Jones had four first-half touchdown passes and HP reached the end zone on three consecutive drives in the second quarter to open up a 28-0 advantage at the break, when most of the starters headed to the bench.
“The focus was to get ahead and get our seniors in the game, so everybody gets a chance to play with significant playing time,” said HP head coach Randy Allen. “We got that done and got a victory, so I’m happy.”
The overmatched Jackrabbits (2-6, 1-4) almost took an early lead after HP was stopped on downs on its opening possession. Forney needed just one play to reach the HP 2-yard line following a 69-yard completion from Devon Rideaux to his brother, Aaron.
However, the Scots shifted the momentum with a defensive stand and a blocked field goal. The offense responded with a 43-yard completion from Jones to Cade Saustad, and took a 7-0 lead on a subsequent 14-yard touchdown catch by Scully Jenevein.
“Our defense is playing better each week,” Allen said. “I’m pleased with the progress they’re making.”
After losing two fumbles, the Scots pulled away with a dominant second quarter. Jones connected with Finn Corwin on a 38-yard scoring strike, set up by a 43-yard pass to Saustad. Corwin has a team-high seven touchdown receptions this season.
HP also struck quickly on its next two drives, both of which were capped by Jones scoring passes to Bennett Brown, covering 17 and 21 yards, respectively.
The Scots ran just 23 plays before halftime but gained 342 yards, for an average of almost 15 yards per snap. Jones completed eight of 10 passes for 200 yards.
“I’m happy with the way our offense moved the ball,” Allen said. “John Stephen was making some good plays, and we had some receivers get open in one-on-one coverages and make great catches.”
The second unit scored on its first drive in the second half, with Christian McAnalley throwing a 25-yard strike to Camden Clark.
From there, HP kept the ball primarily on the ground and tried to keep the clock running. Cameron Reeves paced the Scots with 83 rushing yards on just seven carries.
Rideaux threw late touchdown passes to Sean Stephens and Austin Ream for the Jackrabbits, taking advantage of some HP ball-security mishaps. Rideaux finished with 239 passing yards and 55 rushing yards. Aaron Rideaux led all receivers with 121 yards on five catches.
The Scots posted their seventh straight victory overall and secured a spot in the playoffs for the 59th time, which extends their state record. HP likely will be the district’s top seed in the Class 5A Division I bracket, just as they were during last season’s state-title run.