ALLEN--There have been times this season when the Prosper aerial attack has lit up opposing defenses and others when they have relied on their efficient ground game.
Both of those elements were on display on Friday, and coupled with a stifling defensive effort, that proved too much for Mesquite as the Eagles pulled away for a 45-18 victory in a Class 6A Division I area round playoff game at Eagle Stadium.
Prosper (10-2) advances to the Region II semifinals where it will take on The Woodlands (8-4), a 34-28 winner in double overtime over Cy-Fair, at 7 p.m. Saturday at McLane Stadium in Waco.
“I thought our defense played light out tonight against a really good offense,” Prosper head coach Brandon Schmidt said. “Offensively, we were clicking, I thought the passing game was going really well early and then the running game was going really well late. Our coaches did a great job all week preparing the kids, the kids did a great job tonight of coming out and executing the game plan.”
Though the Eagles never trailed, Mesquite (8-4) was right there with them in the first half and had their chances to surge into the lead.
But after forcing a punt late in the second quarter, Prosper quickly marched 65 yards in six plays, with Jackson Berry finding a wide-open Grant Peck for a 37-yard touchdown that extended the lead to 21-6 with just 56 seconds left before halftime.
The Eagles got the ball first in the second half and put together another sustained drive that ended in a 37-yard field goal by Brad Larsen to make it 24-6 and the lead never dipped below double digits again.
“Especially with us getting the ball first in the second half, I thought that was huge,” Schmidt said. “If we were able to get a touchdown there late in the first half and then get the ball first in the second half and put points on the board, we knew it would be hard for them to win.”
The Skeeters had been a big-play offense all season and while they did strike a couple of times, they were unable to consistently establish the ground game like they had hoped.
Mesquite finished with 252 yards on the ground, but 31 of their 49 attempts went for four or fewer yards.
“I thought our defensive line played exceptional tonight,” Schmidt said. “We worked all week on containing the quarterback and really playing team defense, not allowing the quarterback to get loose, the defensive linemen staying at home, not necessarily being able to get the tackle, but to contain the quarterback and they did a great job.”
The early stages of the second half had the makings of a back-and-forth shootout.
When the Skeeters finally did get their hands on the ball, they quickly marched down the field, with LaDarius Turner scoring on a 5-yard run. The two-point conversion attempt failed, but they were back to within 24-12.
Prosper needed only 1:14 to respond, with Berry hooking up with Tyler Bailey on a 17-yard scoring strike to push the lead back to 31-12.
Mesquite was on the verge of countering, putting together a 14-play drive that took nearly six minutes off the clock, but they ultimately turned it over on downs.
The Eagles moved in for the knockout blow, with Berry hitting Bailey for a 51-yard gain that led to a 1-yard touchdown run by JT Lane to make it 38-12 with 8:04 left.
After a quick punt, Lane, who had 18 carries for 131 yards on the night, saved his longest run for last with a 32-yard touchdown to put it away at 45-12.
Mesquite would get on the board one last time on a 9-yard scoring run by K.B. Frazier, but Prosper was able to run out the clock from there.
Berry, who had completed at least 50 percent of his passes in every game this season, extended that streak with an efficient 12-of-16 for 250 yards and four touchdowns, the first of which was a 11-yarder to Hayden Metcalf to open the scoring midway through the first quarter.
The Skeeters countered with one of their few big plays when RJ Bonner darted around the left edge and then weaved through the defense for a 42-yard touchdown.
However, in a sign of things to come, the extra point was missed, leaving Prosper with a one-point lead.
Following a punt, Mesquite put together a seven-minute drive, moving 73 yards in 15 plays, converting a fourth down and two third downs along the way.
They thought about going on fourth-and-goal from the 3, but elected to take the points. But a bad snap prevented them from getting a decent foot on the ball and they came away empty-handed.
Prosper wasted little time capitalizing on the momentum shift, with Berry again finding Metcalf for a 11-yard touchdown pass to make it 14-6 with 5:37 left in the first half.
The Eagle defense would give the offense one more chance and they seized it with the touchdown pass from Berry to Peck that set the tone for the rest of the game.
“I thought we played really well tonight,” Schmidt said. “Too many penalties, too many mental mistakes, so we’ll watch the film tomorrow and fix what we need to fix, but I’m really proud of our team’s effort tonight, I thought they did a great job.”