ARLINGTON — It was one for the ages.
Friday night’s Class 5A Division I state football championship game between defending champion Highland Park and former 6A power Manvel was a heavyweight bout, with the teams trading punches until the very last second on the clock.
Highland Park quarterback John Stephen Jones set a host of records in his second straight offensive MVP performance, tossing three touchdowns and rushing for another in the fourth quarter alone to lead the Scots to a 53-49 victory at AT&T Stadium.
Sacked eight times on the night, Jones was able to engineer a comeback win after his team fell behind early and trailed 21-10 at the half. Along the way, the senior set records for pass attempts (58), completions (37) and passing yards in a single title game of any classification with his 564-yard outing.
Jones and Manvel quarterback Kason Martin combined for more than 1,000 passing yards and nine touchdown passes. The game also featured more tehan 100 total points, more than 1200 yards of total offense, state playoff records for the longest kickoff return (97) and the longest touchdown pass in 5A history (95 yards). There were seven passing plays over 60 yards in the game.
Jones’ touchdown pass to wide receiver Cade Saustad with 34 seconds remaining was the one that meant the most, completing the comeback and lifting the Scots to victory. But not even this heroic effort was enough to cement the victory for the back-to-back 5A champions. That took Kason Martin making his own heroic effort, which fell short — at the 1-yard line — as time expired.
“They were all satisfying but this one was incredible, I can’t even put it into words, this team has no quit in them,” said Jones after the game. “I just did what I do, you can call it what you want, but I’ve just got the best teammates and the best coaches and it’s amazing feeling to come out here with a win.
“Heads were still up, in all honesty my head was getting a little down, but my team kept me up, everybody kept saying, ‘Hey, we have a chance, we still have a chance. The clock hasn’t zero yet. And they showed it out there on the field.’”
And as wild as the finish was, the road to the end was every bit as crazy and unpredictable as you will ever find or hear of in all of sport. In fact, Highland Park had to recover an onside kick with 2:05 left to have a chance to win the game. And they did just that as Saustad hopped on the football to keep the Scots hopes alive leading to Jones final heroics with :34 seconds left.
“We came up one second and one yard short I guess,” Manvel head coach Kirk Martin said. “That’s a tough way to lose one right there. I thought our kids played their guts out, I guess it wasn’t meant to be I guess. Like my son (quarterback Kason Martin) told them when we huddled up for our last prayer, we’ll learn from it and there’s always something positive that is going to come out of something like this. I don’t know what it is, it doesn’t feel very positive right now. Proud of the kids and the community and the support we had. I really felt like it would turn out different. Wasn’t meant to be.”
“I don’t know what you tell them. Tell them how proud we are of them. Tell them I love them and that it’s just one of those deals. You can’t explain it. You just have to live through it and learn from it. Those kids fought hard and I felt like they deserved to win.”
After an entertaining first half that saw Manvel jump out to a 21-10 halftime lead, Jones and his Scot teammates came out on fire in the second half, scoring on Paxton Alexander’s 10-yard option run to narrow the gap to five. The same play on the two-point conversion by Connor Allen made the score 21-18. Manvel didn’t flinch, as they mounted a 78-yard drive culminating in a spectacular one-handed catch by Jalen Preston that made the score 28-18.
Jones responded with a pass to Jay Smith for six, and it was 28-25. And there was still 4:26 left in the third quarter. Manvel roared back as Martin threw another bomb to Colbey Washington for a 62-yard scoring strike to extend the lead to 10, 35-25 with one minute left in the third.
Back came the Scots, narrowing the score to three after a 6-yeard run by Benner Page. Then it was the Mavericks’ Preston stealing the show, as he caught a 95-yard bomb with 10:56 left making the score 42-32.
The Scots again turned to the Jones-to-Saustad connection, this time for an 8-yard scoring strike, once again narrowing the lead to three. The Mavericks immediately followed with a 97-yard kickoff return by Kam Scott, extending the lead to 10 at 49-39 with 6:27 left.
After holding Highland Park on a four-and-out, it looked like Manvel would have its championship and end the season 15-0. But the Scots held the Mavericks on their next possession, and Jones struck quickly and carried the mail in from one-yard out to narrow the score to 49-46.
Then the improbable happened. Highland Park needed to recover an onside kick to have a gasp, and that’s just what they did.
“It was a call I expected, and practiced right before the kick even started,” Highland Park kicker Matteo Cordroy said. “We hit it just right, then it bounced up over the first receiver and right to Cade (Sauseda, so it was great.”
It was his first ever onside kick in a game.
The Mavericks drew first blood in the first quarter, when Garrison Johnson stretched the pigskin over the plane of the goal line giving the Mavericks the first six points of the game. Following the extra point, Manvel held the Scots after giving them good field position, highlighted by the defenses back-to-back sacks of Jon.es by Junior defensive lineman Kori Robinson.
But on Highland Park’s next possession, Jones found paydirt with his favorite target on the night, Cade Saustad. After a fake run into the line and lateral back to Jones, he hooked up with Saustad on a 73-yard strike just over the outstretched fingertips of defensive back and Penn State commit Trent Gordon.
Following Matteo Codray’s extra point kick, the scored was knotted at 7-7 with 1:55 left in the first quarter.
That’s when the Maverick’s found lightening in a bottle. On the first play of their next possession, Kason Martin, who is committed to North Texas State, found Jalen Preston on a 69-yard bomb that just took 13 ticks of the clock. Just like that, it was 14-7. On the Scots’ next possession, Jones drove Highland Park down to the Mavericks 5-yard line. After a key Manvel time out, Junior Jermaine Brown of Manvel sacked Jones for a 17-yard loss on the Mavericks’ 22-yard line at the 6:41 mark of the second quarter.
Lightening definitely struck twice in Arlington as Martin fired a bolt on the very play Terrence Norman for 78-yards on a play that once again only took 13 ticks off the clock and suddenly the Mavericks were up 21-7. Only a 32-yard field goal by Cordray with :08 left in the half made the game closer as the half closed with Manvel leading 21-10.
Manvel’s pressure and attacking defense kept Jones on the run the entire first half, forcing him to scramble and sacking him six times.
For the game, Jones was 37 of 58 for 564 yards and four touchdowns, while his Manvel counterpart Kason Martin was 16 of 30 for 483 yards and five touchdowns, including a 5A 95-yard scoring strike.
The Scots’ Cade Saustad lead all receivers with 11 catches for 210 yards and three touchdowns, along with the vital onside kick recovery. Paxton Alexander had 8 catches (128 yards), Finn Cower had six catches (99 yards), and Scully Jenevain had six catches for 51 yards. Paxton Alexander also rushed for 119 yards on 16 carries including one touchdown.
For Manvel, Kam Scott was the leading rusher with 75 yards. Jalen Preston lead the receiving corps with five catches for 220 yards and three touchdowns, and Terrence Norman had three catches for 112 yards and one touchdown. Colbey Washington also contributed three catches for 99 yards and a score.
Jones was named the offensive MVP honors and DePriest Taylor from Manvel was named defensive player of the game.