Commentary

North Shore upset, Mansfield wins again

Updated: November 26, 2008, 10:21 AM ET
By Jeff Miller | Special to ESPNRISE.com

After the No. 3 team in the final Texas Class 5A poll was upset in the first round of the playoffs a week ago, the No. 2 team's season came to an end in the second round Friday night.

[+] EnlargeStepfan Taylor
Greg Thomas PhotographyMansfield RB Stepfan Taylor rushed 44 times for 267 yards in the win over Montwood.

FAB 50 No. 17 North Shore was knocked off by Fort Bend Hightower, 28-21, in a battle of Houston-area unbeatens in the Division I bracket at Pasadena, Texas. North Shore came back from a 13-point deficit late in the third period to take a 21-20 lead with 4:03 to play. But Hightower quarterback A.J. Highsmith -- son of former NFL running back Alonzo Highsmith -- scored what proved to be the winning points on a 1-yard sneak with 33 seconds to go and added a two-point pass for the seven-point lead.

North Shore finished the year 9-1 in its eighth consecutive unbeaten regular season. In four of the last five playoffs, the Mustangs have been eliminated in the second round. Hightower, ranked No. 7 in the state after the regular season, will take a 10-0 record into its game next week against Katy Cinco Ranch (11-1), which took advantage of six turnovers by Aldine Eisenhower in a 62-21 victory Friday night.

Highsmith completed only seven of 22 passes for the Hightower Hurricanes, but three of them were for touchdowns. The Hurricanes won despite being outgained 389 yards to 192, capitalizing twice on significant special-teams plays.

The first of Hightower's two first-quarter touchdowns followed a Mustangs punt that was blocked by Colton Valencia. North Shore was punting out of its end zone trying to protect a 21-20 lead in the game's final minutes when the punt carried only eight yards to the Mustangs' 14-yard line.

Hightower's London Hamilton chugged to the 1-yard line, where Highsmith went in on the quarterback sneak.

North Shore quarterback Alex Tillman threw for 263 yards and two touchdowns -- 47 yards to wide receiver DeAndrew White and 48 yards to tight end Barrett Matthews. Tillman also ran eight yards for the Mustangs' other touchdown.

Last week, No. 3 Abilene was stunned by Mansfield, a program that previously had never won a playoff game. Those Mansfield Tigers doubled their postseason victory total Friday night by beating El Paso Montwood 31-21 at Midland.

Mansfield tailback Stepfan Taylor and the Tigers' second-half defense were the key ingredients in a rally from an 11-point deficit in the final minute of the first half.

[+] Enlargemansfield Defense
Greg Thomas PhotographyMansfield's defense has held opponents scoreless in the second half during the playoffs.

The Montwood Rams took a 21-10 lead with 59 seconds left in the second quarter on a 21-yard touchdown pass from Louie Tinoco to Chris Sazo. But Mansfield came right back downfield with Taylor scoring with 15 seconds remaining from four yards out, his second TD of the first half, to cut Montwood's lead to 21-17.

In the second half, it was all Mansfield -- and mostly Taylor. He added two more touchdowns on runs of 39 yards in the third quarter and 14 yards with 6:02 to play. Montwood was limited in the second half to 11 plays for 20 yards and one first down. The Rams ran two plays in the fourth quarter.

Taylor finished with 267 yards rushing on 44 carries.

"Sometimes you get tired of tackling somebody who runs that hard that consistently," first-year Mansfield coach Jeff Hulme said Saturday morning after the five-hour bus ride back from Midland to Mansfield. "Now, we threw the ball real well, too, and that helped things."

Mansfield didn't punt, going for it on fourth down eight times and converting seven.

"They give you four downs, and I'm a proponent of using all four of them," Hulme said.

Mansfield's reward is a date next week against Cedar Hill (11-1).

Jeff Miller recently left the Dallas Morning News after 21 years. He can be reached at miller.jeff55@gmail.com.