Written by Matt Wixon
Wixon: Swarming defense helps Allen overcome sloppy first half, drop Mesquite in area round of playoffs
PLANO — When the second half started Friday, the winning strategy became pretty simple for Allen. If the Eagles could just hang on to the ball, they wouldn’t need to be hanging on for their playoff lives against Mesquite.
Allen did a better job of it in the second half, and despite a season-high three turnovers, the Eagles got the job done with a 42-28 win in a Class 5A Division I area-round game at John Clark Stadium.
“We had three turnovers in the first half, and they scored on all three of those,” Allen coach Tom Westerberg said. “We hadn’t had a game in a long time where we turned the ball over like that.”
Fortunately for Allen (11-1), which will play the winner of Saturday’s matchup of Conroe The Woodlands and Round Rock Westwood, a dominating defense can smooth over the rough spots. Allen lost three fumbles and had a punt blocked, but its playoff hopes were in good hands with its defense.
The Eagles held Mesquite (11-1) to 205 total yards and sacked Alex Cooper eight times. The senior quarterback was limping by the second quarter and appeared to have strained his back, although he missed only one play. His rushing total, including sacks, was 12 runs for a loss of 57 yards.
“All week, we were worried about his scrambling ability,” said senior linebacker Anthony Walker. “We worked on scrambling drills, and once he was injured, it took away their major threat.”
Despite that, Mesquite threatened to tie the score in the fourth quarter. After Allen went up 35-21 on a 25-yard run by quarterback Kyler Murray, Mesquite put together its best possession. The 12-play, 77-yard drive, capped by Cooper’s 20-yard pass to Jordan Bracy, cut Allen’s lead to 35-28 with 10:44 left.
Allen went three-and-out on its next possession, and the Skeeters had the ball with a chance to tie. But Allen’s defense pushed Mesquite backward, dropping Cooper for a 13-yard sack that killed the drive.
“We used a four-man front instead of a three-man front and brought some pressure off the edges,” Westerberg said, “and he didn’t get the big scrambles that we had seen him get on film.”
The film of Friday’s game will be a celebration for Allen’s defense, but the Eagles’ offense put the game away. After Mesquite’s final punt, Allen drove 71 yards in nine plays — all runs — to build a 14-point cushion with 3:56 left. Marcus Ward, who was a workhorse with 28 carries for 113 yards, finished it off with his second touchdown.
Ward ran five times on the drive and the other four were by Murray, the sophomore who is quickly blossoming into a star. Murray completed 11 of 21 passes for 196 yards and two touchdowns and also rushed for two scores.
“He gets better every week,” Westerberg said.
So does Allen, it seems — despite the turnovers. And now the Eagles are in the third round of the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
Allen won the state title that year. It might get its hands on another trophy this year if it can keep its hands on the ball.
Follow Matt Wixon on Twitter at @mattwixon.