In a losing streak that has now reached 45 games and a full five years, Highland Park's football team has had precious few opportunities at victory.
But coach Mike Foristiere and his Scots walked out of Hummer Sports Park knowing they could have, perhaps should have, won Thursday night's non-league contest against Kansas City-Sumner.
After spotting the Sabres a 12-0 lead 7 minutes, 48 seconds into the game, Highland Park battled back to lead twice, including a 22-20 lead early in the fourth quarter, but busted coverage on a long Sumner touchdown pass and a missed red zone opportunity with just over two minutes remaining doomed the Scots to a 26-24 Homecoming defeat.
"This ought to stick right in (the heart) and you know what, you've got to come back,'' Foristiere said. "We'll see how we respond. That's what I'll be looking for.
"These kids will learn and you've got to fight on. I thought we could (win), but give (Sumner) credit. They came out and did a hell of a job.''
Sumner, which took its second straight two-point win over Highland Park, jumped out in front 12-0 on 1-yard runs from seniors Malachi Moore and Dominic Lee, but Highland Park answered with two second-quarter touchdowns to take a 14-12 lead at the half.
The Scots got on the board at the 8:49 mark, with junior Jeremy Kendrick scoring from 4 yards out a play after junior TeRahn Simms recovered a Sumner fumble. Simms ran for the two-point conversion to cut the Sabres' lead to 12-8.
After forcing a Sumner punt, Highland Park drove 79 yards in 10 plays to take the lead on a 4-yard run from junior quarterback Tre Prosper with 2:35 left in the half (run failed).
The big play in the drive was a 45-yard pass play from Prosper to senior Aizayh Johnson that gave the Scots a first down at the Sumner 20.
After Sumner (1-1) took a 20-14 lead on an 18-yard TD pass from Lee to junior Kyun Jackson and a two-point conversion from from Moore, Highland Park recovered a Sabre fumble, got a 26-yard run from Prosper and took its final lead of the night on a 10-yard Prosper TD run and a Kendrick conversion run with 10:59 remaining.
The lead only lasted three plays, however, with Lee connecting with a senior Michael Shultz for a 63-yard touchdown on a 3rd-and-13 play with just over nine minutes remaining (run failed) to put the Sabres up 26-22.
Later in the quarter Highland Park recovered Sumner's third lost fumble of the night at the Sabres' 32 and picked up a first down at the 18 before turning the ball over on downs at the 10 with 2:04 left.
Pinned inside its own 5, Sumner took a safety with 21 seconds left to account for the final margin. Highland Park took a fair catch on the free kick at its 40-yard-line, but was held to no gain on its only play before time ran out.
"We had some adversity all night and kept on coming back every single time,'' Sumner coach Andrew Wright said. "Just learning how to win, that's our biggest thing right now.
Moore ran for a game-high 103 yards on 21 carries for Sumner while Lee completed four of five passes for 94 yards and the two TDs.
Prosper rushed for 81 yards on 24 carries and Kendrick had 77 yards on 21 attempts for Highland Park (0-2).
KC-SUMNER 26, HIGHLAND PARK 24
Highland Park (0-1);0;14;0;10;—;24
Sumner — Moore 1 run (run failed)
Sumner — Lee 1 run (pass failed)
HP — Kendrick 4 run (Simms run)
HP — Prosper 4 run (run failed)
Sumner — Jackson 18 pass from Lee (Moore run)
HP — Proctor 10 run (Kendrick run)
Sumner — Shultz 63 pass from Lee (run failed)
HP — Safety
RUSHING — Sumner: Moore 21-103, Graves-Dye 3-29, Brown 2-19, Shultz 4-6, Jackson 2-(minus)-1, Lee 7-(minus)-7, Team 1-(minus)-15. Highland Park: Prosper 24-81, Kendrick 21-77, Spruce 5-19, Simms 3-13, Latona 1-6, Epps 1-3.
PASSING — Sumner: Lee 4-5-0, 94 yards. Highland Park: Prosper 3-6-0, 54.
RECEIVING — Sumner: Jackson 3-31, Shultz 1-63. Highland Park: Johnson 2-54, Kendrick 1-0.
PUNTING — Sumner: Austin 2-31.0. Highland Park: Gallegos 2-28.0.