Reload. Repeat. Mission accomplished.
Highland Park never wavered from that mantra, even when Manvel led by 10 points with less than three minutes remaining in Friday’s Class 5A Division I state championship game at AT&T Stadium.
Two touchdowns later, propelled by grit and determination, the Scots rallied for a stunning 53-49 win to capture back-to-back state titles for the first time in the program’s decorated history.
After trailing throughout the game, HP scored 28 points in the fourth quarter, highlighted by a desperation onside kick recovery followed by a 16-yard touchdown pass from John Stephen Jones to Cade Saustad with 34 seconds remaining.
Literally 1 yard separated victory from defeat for the Scots (15-1), who stopped Manvel’s last-ditch comeback effort at the 1-yard line as time expired.
“A lot of people didn’t give them a chance to do it, but they fought back and did it, and they did it against great competition,” said HP head coach Randy Allen, who has now led the Scots to three of the five state titles in school history.
Jones shattered plenty of offensive records for a 5A championship game, completing a remarkable 37 of 58 passes for 564 yards and four touchdowns. Saustad finished with 12 catches for 220 yards and three scores, along with the aforementioned onside kick recovery that kept the rally alive. Paxton Alexander had 247 all-purpose yards with a rushing touchdown.
As a team, HP racked up 662 yards of total offense. Yet numbers alone don’t do justice to the nature of this resilient victory, which came against a previously unbeaten opponent that dominated its competition all season.
Jones was named the offensive MVP of the championship game for the second consecutive season, and showed the type of clutch leadership for the past two seasons that will place him among the top tier of HP legends.
“He’s magic,” Allen said. “He can escape, he’s a leader, he competes, he finds the open receivers, and he makes runs when he has to.”
Trailing 49-39 down the stretch, the Scots turned the ball over on downs on their first comeback attempt, but kept hope alive when Jones scored on a 1-yard run with 2:06 left. Then came Saustad’s recovery of the onside kick, followed a few plays later by a heart-stopping 28-yard completion to Finn Corwin on fourth-and-15.
Jones found Saustad over the middle for a 16-yard score with 35 seconds left, giving HP the 53-49 lead. Manvel made a valiant effort to respond, but Jalen Preston was stopped following a catch just short of the end zone.
“This was right down to the wire. We made a lot of plays and they made a lot of plays, and we came out by an inch or two,” Allen said. “I’m so proud of our kids for fighting back and getting us back in the game.”
The win allowed HP to tie the school mark for victories in a season with 15, and this year’s squad also established a new record for total points in a season with 728, which included 316 points in postseason play — surpassing the undefeated 2005 championship team.
The Mavericks (14-1), a decade-old program making their second appearance in a state-title game, were bigger and faster, and showcased plenty of big-play ability behind quarterback Kason Martin and an aggressive defense that registered nine sacks — setting a new state championship game record — including seven in the first half.
As a result, the Scots spent much of the night simply trying to stay within striking distance. The teams traded touchdowns for the entirety of a thrilling second half, beginning with Alexander’s 18-yard touchdown scamper on the opening drive of the third quarter that trimmed the HP deficit to 21-18.
Manvel’s longest drive of the night, in terms of plays, resulted in a 7-yard scoring pass from Martin to Preston. HP responded again when Jones found Jay Smith on a 4-yard touchdown strike.
The Scots came up with a big defensive play on the ensuing possession, stopping a drive when James Herring forced a fumble and Marshall Ballard recovered.
HP couldn’t capitalize, but the Mavericks did, when Martin hit Colbey Washington for a 62-yard touchdown pass to make the score 35-25 late in the third quarter.
On the next HP possession, Jones hooked up with Alexander for 80 yards on third-and-long, setting up a Benner Page touchdown run.
Manvel again needed only one play to find the end zone, courtesy of a 95-yard touchdown catch by Preston that broke another state championship game record.
Jones then engineered another scoring drive to cut the deficit to 42-39 when he found Saustad for a 9-yard touchdown.
However, Manvel’s Kam Scott answered immediately by returning the kickoff to paydirt, stretching the advantage back to 10 points midway through the fourth quarter.
Martin, one of seven Manvel players committed to FBS college programs, passed for 483 yards and five touchdowns in his final high school game. Three of those scores went to Preston, who accumulated 220 yards on just five catches, for a 44-yard average.
The quick-strike ability of the Mavericks might have contributed to defensive fatigue down the stretch, as HP dominated time of possession by running 96 offensive plays compared to just 50 for Manvel.
One factor that contributed to those extended drives was third-down conversions, for which HP consistently went to Saustad for gains both long and short.
In the first half, HP almost looked overmatched at times, unable to contain Manvel’s playmakers on either side of scrimmage.
Scott’s early 75-yard run on a reverse led to Manvel’s opening touchdown on a 1-yard run by Garrison Johnson.
Later in the quarter, a defensive stand by HP led directly to a 73-yard touchdown pass on a flea flicker from Jones to Saustad.
However, the Mavericks quickly grabbed the momentum back with a long scoring pass from Martin to Preston on the next snap from scrimmage. Then the Manvel defense turned away the Scots with a huge sack by DePriest Taylor on a 17-play drive that reached the Manvel 1.
Again, the Mavericks needed just one play to capitalize, this time on a 78-yard reception by Terence Norman that give Manvel its biggest lead of the game at 21-14. That stood until HP’s Matteo Cordray kicked a 32-yard field goal just before halftime.
At that point, few could have predicted the fireworks that followed, nor the miraculous way in which it all ended.