For Mesquite, it was saddle up time.
The Wildcats began their 2011 football campaign riding running back Anthony Lopez to a 20-3 Division I, Section II victory over host Highland in an intra-town rivalry game.
“He’s the horse,” Mesquite coach Matt Gracey said. “We’re going to ride him.”
Lopez, who rushed for more than 1,500 yards last year, had 117 yards on 18 carries. He scored on a 63-yard run. While the box score may reflect a highly productive effort, Lopez found the going rough most of the game.
“They focused on stopping the run,” Lopez said. “They had eight guys in the box all night.”
Although the Hawks were focused on Mesquite’s run game, they effectively gave up the game in the first quarter. In its first seven plays of the season, Highland committed three turnovers, including a fumble on the first play from scrimmage.
On the Hawks' fourth play from scrimmage, quarterback Merrick Madrid threw an interception that Mesquite’sreturned for a 7-yard touchdown.
All three turnovers came in Highland territory, but the Wildcats managed only seven points.
“We have got to get better,” Highland coach Pete Walheim said.
On offense, Mesquite had a hard time moving the ball throughout the first half.
Other than Lopez’s 63-yard run in the second quarter, the Highland defense held strong.
“We hung in there,” Walheim said. “We just need to make plays.”
The Highland defense made its biggest play in the third quarter when Tim Scala intercepted a Steven Bevan pass. The Hawks capitalized on the error with their only points of the game, which came on a 47-yard field goal by Austin Casillas.
“It’s a rivalry game,” Gracey said. “We did not expect them to lie down.”
On Mesquite’s next possession, the Highland defense forced a fumble, but the Hawks could not capitalize.
Mesquite’s defense matched Highland’s. The Wildcats gave up a total of 35 yards rushing on 28 carries for a 1.25 yards per carry average.
Mesquite’s final score came on a 9-yard pass from Bevan to Penili Pulotu. The pass was set up by a 34-yard reverse by Karai Keil. It was only the second rushing play of over 20 yards that Highland gave up.
“We gave up two plays,” Walheim said. “We’ll clean this up.”