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Football: Ryan can't overcome Highland Park in state semifinal loss

ARLINGTON — Ryan's high-octane offense was built to score a lot of points, and in the first half of Friday's game, that's exactly what was happening. But as the game wore on, it became abundantly clear the Raiders' opponent was just as trigger happy.

In a game that featured 80 points and 958 total yards, Highland Park quarterback John Stephen Jones was the difference maker in a 45-35 win against Ryan in a Class 5A Division I state semifinal at AT&T Stadium. Jones, the grandson of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, threw for 377 yards and five touchdowns as the Scots outscored Ryan 31-14 over the final 33 minutes.

Nursing a 10-point lead, Highland Park was able to run out the final 8 minutes.

Highland Park (14-1) beat Ryan 31-24 in last year's state semifinal and went on to win the state title the following week. It will face Manvel at 7 p.m. next Friday at AT&T Stadium to try to repeat.

"Give credit to [Highland Park]. They played well and we knew it was going to come down to a few key plays. I think it definitely did," Ryan coach Dave Henigan said. "Our kids played hard and tried to get back in it, but we never could."

Highland Park punted only once — on its first drive — and finished the game having scored on all but three of its 10 drives. Jones rushed for only 22 yards, but he avoided would-be sacks countless times throughout the game while keeping his eyes downfield to extend drives.

Perhaps the most impressive of Jones' drive-extending plays was late in the fourth quarter with Ryan trying to build momentum. Oklahoma State commit Spencer Sanders had just ripped off an 80-yard touchdown run to trim the Scots' lead to 45-35 with 8:09 to play. Facing a 3rd-and-8 deep in his team's territory, Jones found Cade Saustad on the sideline and nabbed the first down by the nose of the football.

Highland Park converted three third-downs on its final 15-play drive. Saustad finished with 104 receiving yards and three scores. Conner Allen added 76 yards and one score through the air. 

"Props to Jones. He's really good working in and out of the pocket, and I feel like he's an even better quarterback out of the pocket," Ryan senior linebacker Kosi Eldridge said. "Not being able to contain him hurt us tonight."

Both teams traded punches early as they combined for six straight scores. Ryan's offense scored on its first three possessions but was forced to punt with 2:59 left in the first half and the game tied at 21. Highland Park capitalized with a 10-play, 71-yard scoring drive to go up 28-21, a lead it would never relinquish. 

That score set off a 17-point surge for the Scots, who led 38-21 with 2:55 left in the third. 

Sanders finished with 256 passing yards and three touchdowns. He also rushed for 160 yards and two scores. His 60-yard touchdown strike to Jamarion Robertson with 1:18 left in the third quarter appeared to have pumped new life into the Ryan offense, which hadn't scored since the 8:59 mark of the second quarter. But that's as close as Ryan would get to mounting a comeback.

Highland Park tacked on another touchdown on its ensuing drive. Sanders followed by ripping off his 80-yard touchdown, but his offense never got the ball back after that.

Ryan was looking for its sixth state title game appearance since 2000. Its loss Friday capped a three-year run in which the Raiders were 41-3 and advanced at least to the fourth round of the playoffs. 

"These seniors lost three games in three years," Henigan said. "Things didn't end the way they would have wanted, but they have no reason to hang their heads. We just came up short."

STEVE GAMEL can be reached at 940-566-6869 and via Twitter at @NewspaperSteve.

Highland Park 45,  Ryan 35

Highland Park 14 14 10 7 -- 45
Denton Ryan 14 7 7 7 -- 35

DR -- Spencer Sanders 1 run (Luis Cantu kick)

HP -- Cade Saustad 12 pass from John Stephen Jones (Matteo Cordray kick)

DR -- Gabriel Douglas 34 pass from Spencer Sanders (Luis Cantu kick)

HP -- Cade Saustad 2 pass from John Stephen Jones (Matteo Cordray kick)

DR -- Chritauskie Dove 36 pass from Spencer Sanders (Luis Cantu kick)

HP -- Cade Saustad 12 pass from John Stephen Jones (Matteo Cordray kick)

HP -- Carson Bryant 4 pass from John Stephen Jones (Matteo Cordray kick)

HP -- Matteo Cordray 37 FG

HP -- Conner Allen 15 pass from John Stephen Jones (Matteo Cordray kick)

DR -- Jamarion Robertson 60 pass from Spencer Sanders (Luis Cantu kick)

HP -- Conner Allen 5 run (Matteo Cordray kick)

DR -- Spencer Sanders 80 run (Luis Cantu kick)

Team Stats HP DR
First Downs 29 16
Rushing Yards 38-154 20-171
Passing Yards 377 256
Passing 25-36-0 18-28-1
Punts-Avg 1-48.00 2-37.00
Penalties 10-82 1-10
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 1-1

INDIVIDUAL LEADERS

Rushing -- DR: Spencer Sanders 16-160, Emani Bailey 4-11, HP: Paxton Alexander 21-91, Conner Allen 7-34, John Stephen Jones 6-22, Benner Page 3-4, Ryan Coxe 1-3.

Passing -- DR: Spencer Sanders 18-28-1-256, HP: John Stephen Jones 25-36-0-377.

Receiving -- DR: Chritauskie Dove 7-107, Jamarion Robertson 3-83, Gabriel Douglas 3-48, Billy Bowman Jr. 3-16, Emani Bailey 2-2, HP: Cade Saustad 8-104, Conner Allen 4-76, Jay Smith 2-58, Paxton Alexander 3-42, Scully Jenevein 3-37, Carson Bryant 3-31, Finn Corwin 1-18, Benner Page 1-6.