The drive that punctured Highland's football team was everything Mesquite wants to be this season.
The punt return that broke the Hawks was everything Anthony Lopez has shown himself to be.
A drive and subsequent dash defined Mesquite's third quarter, a two-touchdown swing that turned a halftime deficit into a 24-14 victory against Highland on Thursday.
Mesquite (5-1, 2-0 Central Region) once trailed 14-0 to the Hawks, but after Highland's Colten Oliver picked up a fumble and returned it 25 yards for a score, the Hawks capped their best drive of the night with a touchdown plunge, Mesquite woke up.
The Wildcats made it 14-10 by halftime and Josh Sabol's first of two interceptions in the game stopped Highland's first possession of the second half.
The "I-formation" offense wasn't working and the Wildcats were hit-and-miss with their version of the "spread" attack, but for 5 minutes, 23 seconds it all worked.
Lopez showed his speed with a 21-yard run against a Highland defense that held him in check most of the game (15 carries, 76 yards). The Wildcats converted twice on 3rd-and-long, and R.J. Rickert's 11-yard touchdown pass in which he reached behind himself to catch it capped the 10-play, 77-yard march to make it 17-14.
"That's our style of football," Rickert said after he caught four passes for 59 yards and played most of the hot, muggy night on defense. "We sustained a drive and came out (after halftime) with simple changes, but we kept the ball in our hands."
Worn down by having seven kids playing both ways and with starting quarterback Hayden Haviland out because of a broken left arm, Highland 2-3, 0-1) was forced to punt on its next possession, and that's when Lopez really showed his speed.
He went around the right end of the punt formation, slipped through a seam and took off down the sideline. He held off two potential tacklers late for a 61-yard return capped the 14-point third quarter.
"That broke our backs," Highland coach Pete Wahlheim said.
"We got our third defensive touchdown in two weeks and we haven't trailed at halftime all season, but we were still three big plays away."
With a large cast on his left arm, Haviland came into the game in the final two minutes when the Hawks had to go shotgun on every snap, and he took a few vicious hits (a coupe resulted in roughing-the-passer penalties), but Wahlheim said his Haviland still can't take snaps from under center, so a full-time return isn't imminent.
Backup quarterback Merrick Madrid found Jamison Ellis six times for 124 yards, but the Wildcats intercepted Highland three times in the second half.
Effort wasn't an issue for either team, but the Wildcats were unhappy about mental mistakes leading to 10 penalties, and the Hawks are contemplating playing some more younger guys to help with fatigue and pressure on their two-way-starting core group.
Wahlheim was optimistic in his team's ability to get better and be a formidable foe come playoff time, but the Hawks have to get there first, and that makes Mesquite feel as though its mistakes easier to fix from atop the region standings.
"We'll take the win and enjoy our good start, especially against a tough, hard-nosed team like (Highland)," Mesquite coach Mike Reardon said. "The mental errors and penalties are not acceptable, but what our defense has done so far is save us."