By RICK PETERSON
Even though both Shawnee Heights and Highland Park entered Thursday's second-round Class 5A playoff game with identical 7-2 records, the T-Birds were the favorite in the all-city battle, based on strength of schedule and a hot streak at the end of the season.
And Jason Swift's T-Birds lived up to that role in a dominant first half, opening up a commanding 49-0 advantage on the way to a 56-20 win at Hummer Sports Park.
"We were very workmanlike and I like that because there's always a lot of distractions,'' Swift said. "It starts off with one, it being a Thursday night and two, it's playing a Highland Park team that's good and competitive and probably is your friends on the side.
"You put all that together and you're trying to stay focused on a short week and they did it. They came out and took care of business.''
Shawnee Heights, which has now won five straight games, reached the eight-win mark for the first time since 1994 and have advanced to the third round of the playoffs for the first time since 2014. The T-Birds will face the winner of Friday night's game between Blue Valley Southwest (8-1) and Lansing (5-4).
The T-Birds scored the first seven times they touched ithe ball in Thursday's first game against Highland Park since 2017 before taking a knee to end the half.
Heights had four first-half rushing touchdowns, including three TDs from senior Allen Baughman, while senior quarterback Ryeki Tuley threw for a pair of TDs and ran for a score and senior Alex Dittman returned a blocked punt for a TD as the T-Birds took control.
Tuley capped Shawnee Heights game-opening 72-yard scoring drive with a 6-yard run (Camden Granado kick) and the T-Birds also got first-quarter touchdowns on a 4-yard Baughman run (Chase Tofflemire kick) and Dittman's 20-yard return (Granado kick) as Heights went in front 21-0.
The T-Birds tacked on four more touchdowns in the second quarter -- a 70-yard Baughman run (Tofflemire kick), a 24-yard pass from Tuley to sophomore Tyren Parker (Granado kick), a 7-yard TD from Tuley to Jayden Holly (Tofflemire kick) and a 30-yard run from Baughman (Granado kick) -- to open up a 49-0 advantage at the break and force a running clock throughout the second half.
Baughman, who finished the first half and his night with 177 yards and his three TDs on just 12 carries, said it was important that Shawnee Heights took care of business from the outset.
"We were all excited,'' Baughman said. "We were not overlooking them. We know we were favorites to win and we knew we could probably come out here and play bad and barely win it, but we knew if we locked in and had good momentum in the game we could carry that on to (next week) and use that then.''
Tuley went 8 of 11 passing for 137 yards and two scores in his half of work and also carried the ball three times for 33 yards.
Highland Park, which finished its season 7-3, got on the board at the 4:20 mark of the third quarter on an 18-yard run from senior Amari Taylor (pass failed) and added a second straight TD on a 22-yard run from junior quarterback Ja'Corey Robinson (Taylor run) early in the fourth quarter after the Score recovered an onside kick.
Shawnee Heights scored its final TD of the night on a 10-yard run from sophomore backup quarterback Aiden Scott (Granado kick) before Highland Park scored on the final play from scrimmage when Robinson hit junior Mikey Williams for a 61-yard TD strike (fun failed).
Highland Park's late score came one play after the Scots had a 56-yard TD from Robinson to Taylor wiped out by a penalty.
Taylor rushed for 59 yards on 10 carries while junior Jamon Wilson added 55 yards on four carries and Robinson threw for 76 yards and the TD to Williams.
SHAWNEE HEIGHTS 56, HIGHLAND PARK 20
Shawnee Heights (8-2) 21 28 0 7 -- 56
Highland Park (7-3) 0 0 6 14 -- 20
Shawnee Heights -- Tuley 6 run (Granado kick)
Shawnee Heights -- Baughman 4 run (Tofflemire kick)
Shawnee Heights -- Dittman 20 blocked punt return (Granado kick)
Shawnee Heights -- Baughman 70 run (Tofflemire kick)
Shawnee Heights -- Parker 24 pass from Tuley (Granado kick)
Shawnee Heights -- Holly 7 pass from Tuley (Tofflemire kick)
Shawnee Heights -- Baughman 30 run (Granado kick)
Highland Park -- Taylor 18 run (pass failed)
Highland Park -- Robinson 22 run (Taylor run)
Shawnee Heights -- Scott 10 run (Granado kick)
Highland Park -- Williams 61 pass from Robinson (run failed)
Rushing -- Shawnee Heights: Baughman 12-177, Tuley 3-33, Wakes 5-29, Scott 2-22, Team 1-(minus)-1. Highland Park: Taylor 10-59, Wilson 5-55, Robinson 3-18, Montgomery 5-11, Fox 2-4, Brown 2-1, .
Passing -- Shawnee Heights: Tuley 8-11-0, 137 yards; Scott 1-1-0, 16. Highland Park: Robinson 5-12-0, 76; Fox 1-4-0, 18; Taylor 0-1-1, 0. .
Receiving -- Shawnee Heights: Moore 2-58, Malcom 2-36, Parker 2-29, Holly 2-15, Gallegos 1-16. Highland Park: Williams 3-54, Wilson 2-31, Taylor 1-9.
Punting -- Highland Park: Brown 5-33.8.