North Mesquite has talked a lot about closing the gap.
The Stallions have endured some tough times in recent years, but felt they were moving in the right direction.
On Friday, that belief was confirmed.
North Mesquite jumped out to an early lead and then held off a late charge by Horn to capture a 23-21 victory in the 10-6A opener for both teams at Mesquite Memorial Stadium.
The Stallions improve to 2-3 overall and 1-0 in district, while the Jaguars fall to 2-3 and 0-1.
If North Mesquite continues to turn the corner and emerges as a playoffs contender, it can point to a couple of defining moments on Friday.
The Stallions led 14-0 at one point, only two watch Horn come storming back. The Jaguars used big plays in its win over Tyler a week ago, and turned to that formula again early in the third quarter, as Darrius White hit Chris Dawn in stride for a 63-yard touchdown pass to draw even at 14-14.
Horn had momentum and its Homecoming crowd was making noise, but North Mesquite never panicked.
Instead, they put together one of the more dominant drives one will see this season.
Starting at their own 25, the Stallions promptly marched 75 yards in 17 plays and chewed up 8:56 off the clock.
They converted on fourth-and-one, and a short time later, facing third-and-33, quarterback Liam Thornton hooked up with Marcus Yow on a 40-yard completion down to the 3-yard line. Three plays later, Thornton bulled in from a yard out to regain the lead at 20-14.
On Horn’s next play from scrimmage, it put the ball on the ground and Ashton Williams recovered for the Stallions.
The offense then went back to work, taking up another 4:12 off the clock and getting a 22-yard field goal from Andrick Juarez to make it a two-score game at 23-14 with 9:12 left.
North Mesquite expected Horn to make a final push and the Jaguars did just that.
Taking over at their own 24 with 5:15 left, Horn quickly moved down the field on a six-play, 76-yard drive, with White scrambling around the left edge for a 7-yard touchdown run to draw to within 23-21 with 3:43 left.
The Stallions picked up one first down on their next drive, but had to punt the ball away and the Jaguars got one final chance with 1:38 remaining.
Horn moved into North Mesquite territory, but time was winding down. The Jaguars elected to attempt a 47-yard field goal with seven seconds left, but the Stallions appeared to get a piece of it, and the kick fell off the mark to spark the North Mesquite celebration.
The Stallions had struggled offensively during their three-game losing streak, scoring a total of 34 points during that stretch.
But they came out much differently from the start.
On the game’s opening possession, they efficiently moved 82 yards in eight plays without facing a third down. Yow had a 27-yard run and had a pair of receptions and Thornton then hit Cordale Russell over the middle on a 10-yard scoring strike to take a 7-0 lead.
Horn, meanwhile, had used a number of huge plays in its previous game, but the North Mesquite defense did the job early on, forcing a pair of punts, and then on the Jaguars’ third possession, Greg Sherfield picked off a pass and returned it 48 yards for a touchdown to make it 14-0 with 11:17 left in the first half.
Horn, who actually finished with a 407-261 edge in total yards, had tried several deep attempts and finally hit on one as White, who was 12-of-27 for 259 yards, threw a 41-yard scoring strike to Xavier Brown to close to within 14-7 with 5:40 left before halftime.
The Jaguars got another opportunity a short time later when Jordan Prince recovered a Stallion fumble with 23 seconds left, but they were unable to turn it into points.
Horn appeared to be on the verge of taking control with the early touchdown in the third quarter to pull even, but it was North Mesquite who would dictate the rest of the second half to earn the victory.