Cleveland rocks — and he can throw a football pretty well, too.
A.J. Cleveland, Highland’s junior quarterback, threw for 356 yards and six touchdowns and the Scots pulled away for a 52-28 victory over host North in the Southeast Yosemite League opener for both teams.
Cleveland connected with senior Shabazz Muhammad on four scoring plays through the air, including two in the third quarter that gave Highland a 45-21 lead with 1:55 left in the quarter.
Cleveland also threw a 22-yard scoring pass to Chris Gutierrez in the second quarter and then capped the Scots’ scoring with a 32-yard touchdown pass to Nick Salas to give Highland a 52-21 lead with 9:14 to play.
Muhammad finished with 188 yards receiving, scoring on pass plays off 27, 55, 46 and 44 yards. Salas had seven catches for 117 yards and also rushed for 36 yards on seven carries.
North (4-2, 0-1) stayed close throughout the first half, trimming the Scots lead to 28-21 on a 34-yard touchdown pass from Titus Liest to Alex Ruvalcaba with 38 second left in the first half.
But Highland (5-1, 1-0) moved the ball downfield, and Pablos Robles kicked a 30-yard field goal to give the Scots a 31-21 lead at the break.
It was the start of 24 straight points by Highland, which snapped a six-game losing streak to North. The Scots last victory over the Stars was in 2012.
North was forced to use three quarterbacks. Liest was reportedly injured late in the first half and did not play in the second half. Ruvalcaba started the third quarter, but a cramp forced him to the sidelines temporarily and running back Brian Dean was forced to take snaps under center for a few possessions.
Dean had a big first half. He scored on two short touchdown runs, including a 3-yard plunge to cut the Highland lead to 21-14 with 6:41 left in the first half. The touchdown was set up by Dean’s 87-yard kickoff return, moving the ball to the Scots' 7-yard line. Dean finished with 80 yards rushing on 16 carries.
Alex Tejeda added 85 yards on 11 carries, including a 27-yard run on North’s first play from scrimmage.
The Stars were also hurt by two lost fumbles and two interceptions. Highland scored on each of its first four possessions and didn’t have to punt until 2:02 left in the first half. On the punt, the Scots’ leading rusher Joey Vidal was ejected from the game following an altercation with a North player at midfield, away from the play.