Allen vs Lake Highlands

Allen junior DJ Hicks (30) and the Eagles shut out Lake Highlands in the second half in Friday's 49-24 victory.

ARLINGTON — For any hardships or shortcomings endured by the Allen football team during the first half of Friday’s area playoff game, head coach Chad Morris kept an even keel as the Eagles stared down a 24-14 halftime deficit to Lake Highlands.

It was just the second time all season that the state-ranked Eagles had trailed through two quarters, the last coming back on Sept. 3 in an eventual 41-20 loss to Atascocita – Allen's first regular-season loss since 2012. Allen’s response on Friday was a bit more to Morris’ liking.

The Eagles brushed off their halftime deficit with 35 consecutive points scored over the final two quarters to down the Wildcats, 49-24, from Globe Life Field and advance to the regional semifinal round of the Class 6A Division I playoffs.

“It was all about getting in there at halftime and just breathing deep,” said Chad Morris, Allen head coach. “Breathe deep, we’re OK and we know we didn’t play up to our standard. If we go play our standard of football, we’ll be fine.

“We challenged them to make plays. Somebody had to step up and it was nice to see these guys do that.”

The Eagles stared down more than just a 10-point halftime deficit. Through two quarters, Lake Highlands posted a 316-176 disparity in yardage gained, scoring on four of its five first-half possessions.

By the time Friday’s ballgame went final, the Wildcats had added only 140 more yards to that total to go along with zero points.

The Eagles subdued an explosive Wildcat attack, largely bottling up star running back Noelle Whitehead, who despite running for 139 yards on 20 carries, mustered 85 of those yards on his first two carries of the game. And after being shredded by quarterback Caden Dotson, who completed 12-of-13 passes in the first half, the Eagles held the signal-caller to 14-of-26 over the final two quarters.

“We really just challenged our guys. We just didn’t play well,” Morris said. “We were getting knocked off the ball, our defensive line was non-existent and we were really bad in the back end. We challenged them and let them know if they want to continue their season, they’ve got to figure it out.”

In forcing one punt after another, Allen’s defense resurgence fed into an offense that thrived on quick-strike drives. The Eagles needed just 10 total plays to find the end zone three times during their second-half blitzkrieg — junior Devyn Turner capped a four-play drive to begin the third quarter with a 38-yard touchdown catch from sophomore Mike Hawkins, and senior Jaylen Jenkins found the end zone on a 20-yard run with 7:36 left in the third to put Allen in front for the first time all night, 28-24.

The points piled up from there — Hawkins found senior Jacob Brasher all alone for a 34-yard touchdown just 1:04 into the fourth quarter, and Jenkins and Turner both found the end zone one more time apiece to polish off the 35-0 second half.

Jenkins’ third score of the night came on a screen pass on third-and-8 for a 56-yard touchdown with 7:25 to go in the ballgame. Following a Lake Highlands turnover on downs in the red zone, Turner capped his night with a 6-yard touchdown run.

Allen’s star-studded rushing duo totaled six touchdowns in the win — three apiece for Jenkins and Turner. Jenkins totaled 241 yards in the win, while Turner accounted for 130 yards of offense. Hawkins spread the wealth with 354 passing yards and three touchdowns on 12-of-18 attempts, while senior Jordyn Tyson hauled in six balls for 187 yards.

“We felt like our scheme in the first half was good, but we shot ourselves in the foot a few times,” Morris said. “But that’s a credit to Lake Highlands and what they were doing. We just needed to settle in and make some plays.”

That didn’t particularly come easy early on for Allen.

It was an early game of catch-up for the Eagles, who stared at a 14-0 deficit before so much as five minutes had elapsed off the game clock.

Lake Highlands elected to receive the opening kickoff and struck with a fury — Whitehead churned out a 35-yard gain on third-and-15, and three plays later, Dotson lobbed up a 26-yard touchdown pass where only receiver Jeremiah Richards could dive to reach it.

One series later, despite being backed up to its 10-yard line, the Wildcats needed just four plays to record 90 yards. Whitehead took a carry 50 yards past midfield and moments later Lake Highlands was back in the end zone after blindsiding the Eagles with a reverse run by Shamar Donaldson for a 14-0 lead with 7:12 left in the first quarter.

“First off, you’ve got to give Lake Highlands a ton of credit,” Morris said. “Coach (Lonnie) Jordan and his staff do a tremendous job and we knew that this would be one of the hardest-playing football teams we had seen all year. These guys are well-coached, they play their butts off, and we knew that we would get their best shot.”

The Eagles mustered a turnover on downs late in the first quarter after senior Blake Vaughan dragged down Dotson for a loss on fourth-and-one from the Allen 33-yard line — a bright spot in a half that saw the Eagles surrender points on four of their five defensive series.

“It wasn’t so much what we did as what they did. They played their tails off in the first half,” Morris said. “They out-played us, out-coached us, out-everything’ed us in that first half.”

In mustering a thorough response, Allen returns to the regional semifinals — the exact round the team stalled out in during last year’s playoff run. At 2 p.m. Saturday at Eagle Stadium, they’ll draw a Euless Trinity bunch that knocked Allen out of the postseason last year, 49-45.

For continued news and coverage on the local sports scene, follow Matt Welch on Twitter.

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