Creekview senior Brett Esch scored touchdowns on the Mustangs’ first two drives Thursday, helping stake the team to an early advantage that they would protect in a 21-12 victory.

IRVING — For much of the second half, it looked as if Irving Nimitz had at last figured out how to slow Creekview’s tried-and-true flexbone offense. Runs that were 7 and 8 yards in the first half were all of a sudden being stuffed at or behind the line of scrimmage.

Doing helped steer momentum in the Vikings’ favor during Thursday’s homecoming game, until Creekview senior Isai Pena and Co. snatched it all back in one fell swoop.

Backed into first-and-25 inside the final two minutes of the fourth quarter, Pena orchestrated a 50-yard run that all of a sudden staked the Mustangs 5 yards from the end zone. Two plays later, Pena scored on a 2-yard run with 1:06 remaining for a much-needed insurance touchdown to deny a Nimitz comeback attempt and hold on for a 21-12 victory from Joy and Ralph Ellis Stadium.

“We told our kids at the half that they would have to respond,” said Jay Cline, Creekview head coach. “The last drive, we kept telling them they had to answer and our kids did that. They played their hearts out and did a great job.”

Pena’s game-clinching score halted a run of 12 unanswered points by the Vikings, who scored on touchdown runs of 11 yards by Brandon Wheeler and 6 yards by Eric Williams to all but erase what had been a two-score Creekview lead for the bulk of the night. However, Nimitz’s execution after finding the end zone kept the Mustangs in the driver’s seat — the Vikings missed the extra point following their first touchdown, and the Creekview defense devoured a two-point conversion try following the second score.

That side of the ball was once again staked with keeping the Mustangs in front after the offense went three-and-out following the Williams touchdown. The defense did just that after forcing a turnover on downs, with senior Keshawn Brown pressuring Nimitz quarterback Chance Hernandez and forcing an overthrow on fourth-and-six to give possessions back to Creekview, leading 14-12 with 2:05 remaining.

The Mustangs’ defense forced three turnovers on downs on Thursday, including one on the game’s opening drive, and junior Rickie Brown and senior Aaron Cyrus both intercepted Hernandez in the fourth quarter to help fuel the team’s second consecutive win.

“We’ve been saying all year that we have a great defense,” Cline said. “We preach running to the football and being physical, and without a doubt, those guys did that tonight. When we watch the tape, it won’t be as pretty as it felt tonight, but without a doubt, they played their hearts out and made some crucial stops.”

Doing so helped buoy a Creekview offense that sandwiched a special teams takeaway in the first quarter with two early rushing touchdowns from senior quarterback Brett Esch to immediately stake the Mustangs to a 14-0 advantage. Having attempted just four passes all season, Creekview’s run-centric offense had its way with Nimitz early on, including a 48-yard run by senior Ian Tanner on just the team’s second play from scrimmage to help set up a 6-yard Esch touchdown. Following a turnover on the ensuing kickoff, Nimitz was again at the mercy of the Mustangs, with Esch taking a carry outside and scoring from 22 yards out for a 14-0 lead with 2:52 remaining in the opening stanza.

“It just takes a lot of time off the clock and keeps the ball away from a very potent offense. It was a big start for us and we ended strong as well,” Cline said.

Overall, the Creekview ground game accounted for all 278 yards of offense, averaging 5.7 yards per carry in the win. The Mustangs posted 179 of those yards in the first half, mustering only 44 yards on their first 16 carries of the second half before Pena’s 50-yard run late in the contest.

Pena (119 rushing yards, one touchdown) and Esch (76 yards, two scores) were at the center of the Mustangs’ effort on offense, with Tanner chipping in 63 yards on the ground in the win. Creekview managed to do without attempting a pass.

Nimitz, meanwhile, got a 206-yard performance through the air from Hernandez, including 71 yards on three catches for receiver Chris Clark. Williams added 107 rushing yards as the Vikings dipped to 1-2 on the season.

The Mustangs, on the other hand, have their first 2-1 start since 2016 and, following a bye week, looks to carry that momentum into District 4-5A Division I action on Sept. 27 when they hit the road to take on Grapevine.

“We’re a much better football team than we have been,” Cline said. “We’ll go into the bye week and clean up some things that we made mistakes with, open district and see what happens.”

For continued news and coverage on the local sports scene, follow Matt Welch on Twitter.

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