By Nick Talbot
Killeen Daily Herald
CORSICANA - In getting blown out early by Mesquite Horn last week, the Mesquite Skeeters found what they needed to win in the playoffs.
Down 20-0, Mesquite quarterback Alex Cooper started slinging the ball around, rallying the Skeeters even though they eventually lost 30-28 to Horn.
Friday against Belton, Mesquite did what worked a week ago - spread the field and pass the football.
Cooper passed for 305 yards and the Skeeters took advantage of four Belton turnovers Friday to defeat the Tigers 35-23 in the bi-district round of the Class 5A Division I playoffs at Corsicana High.
"It kind of stemmed from last week," said Mesquite coach Robbie Robinson. "We got way down with turnovers and we were forced to go in a lot of empty formations and throwing the football.
"We knew we could throw the ball, but last week showed us we need to take advantage of that a little more."
The game fell apart for Belton in a four-minute stretch in the third quarter. After consecutive sacks, the Tigers held the Skeeters on downs, taking possession at the 15 with 4:36 remaining in the quarter.
Two plays later, Belton quarterback Peter Shelburne was sacked from behind and fumbled, and the Skeeters recovered. Running back Junior Sessions scored from 10 yards out to put Mesquite up 21-9.
A successful onside kick - which Belton bobbled - gave the Skeeters the ball right back.
And Sessions scored again. This time he went in on a 1-yard plunge.
Shelburne then threw his second interception of the night into the hands of Anthony Canady. Canady returned the pick 55 yards for a touchdown.
Before they knew what hit them, the Tigers were down 35-9 with 38 seconds left before the start of the fourth quarter.
"It is that simple, you can't turn the ball over in the playoffs," said Belton coach Rodney Southern. "The bottom line is that they beat us tonight … obviously you can't turn the ball over, but we didn't stop them either."
Belton running back Donavan Williams, who ran 19 times for 132 yards, drove the ball it into the red zone time and time again for Belton, but from there the Tigers' offense stalled.
On its first trip in of the night, Shelburne tried to fit a pass into a window that wasn't there. Canady picked the pass off at the 1-yard line and returned it to the Belton 49. Cooper hit Kavaski Ervin, who had 12 receptions for 149 yards, three straight times and Mesquite went up 7-0.
"Probably the toughest one was down at the 1-yard line," Southern said. "If we score there we are ahead, but that was not the only thing (that hurt us). They beat us."
Belton went right back down the field again after the Mesquite touchdown as Williams broke off runs of 20, 13 and 18 yards. Once inside the red zone, though, Williams didn't see the ball again and the drive stalled at the 13 and Carlo Mosnia had to kick a 30-yard field goal.
Cooper, who finished 27-of-34 passing, stayed hot throughout.
On Mesquite's next possession, Cooper hit 6-of-8 of his passes as the Skeeters went blazing down the field again. This time Cooper capped off the drive with a 31-yard touchdown pass to Dameon Gamblin to put Mesquite up 14-3
"Cooper is a good athlete and they had a good plan," Southern said. "Going in we wanted to take him away and we couldn't do it."
Up 14-3 in the third quarter, Mesquite tried a fake punt from its own 30, but failed. Two plays later, Shelburne found Derick Bates for a 23-yard touchdown pass.
Belton scored two late touchdowns to make the score close at the end. Williams scored on a 2-yard dive and Shelburne ran in a quarterback keeper from the 1.