WACO, Texas -- By remodeling its offense halfway through this season, Mesquite orchestrated one of the state's best turnaround stories of 2011.
But The Woodlands shut down that offense and the Skeeters' season, snuffing out Mesquite, 24-6, Saturday afternoon at Waco ISD Stadium.
Though the Mesquite defense held its own, keeping the Highlanders in check, The Woodlands defense allowed the Skeeters (7-6) to gain just three first downs in the second half.
"We knew they were good," Mesquite coach Robbie Robinson said. "When you get to this round, you're going to play somebody good and they deserved to win today."
Robinson refused to blame the strong winds, which gusted to more than 40 mph, for Mesquite's loss.
"It affected us, but it affected them too," Robinson said.
Mesquite, which won just a single game in each of the 2009 and 2010 seasons, was trying to reach the fourth round of the playoffs despite finishing the regular season at 5-5.
Instead, The Woodlands (12-1) will move on to face the winner of Saturday's second game at Waco ISD Stadium between Skyline and Klein Oak.
Mesquite struggled to find much success in its spread passing attack from the beginning on a windy day. The Skeeters at times reverted to their run-heavy package.
Not much happened on the ground either, as Mesquite gained just five first downs in the first half and never moved more than 32 yards in a single possession.
However, the Skeeters grabbed the initial lead after punter Brandon Cantu pinned The Woodlands at its own 4 with his first punt of the game. The Mesquite defense forced the Highlanders to go three-and-out and a short Woodlands punt gave the Skeeters possession at The Woodlands 32.
Mesquite running back Junior Session gained 17 yards on a key run and quarterback Alex Cooper completed a 13-yard pass to Dameon Gamblin to The Woodlands 3. Running from the wildcat position, Session toted the ball in from the 3, giving the Skeeters a 6-0 edge.
The Woodlands blocked the ensuing extra-point attempt and Highlanders defensive back Kolbi Brown appeared headed for a two-point conversion the other way before Mesquite's Charles Grant chased him down inside the Skeeter 5.
Still, The Woodlands began to take over the first half at that point.
Having been burned by the Mesquite punt team, the Highlanders redeemed themselves by blocking a Cantu punt midway through the second quarter as Jorie Taylor swatted the ball for The Woodlands, allowing it to take possession at the Mesquite 3.
The Woodlands wildcat quarterback Cooper Woodyard turned that break into points as he barreled across the goal line on fourth-and-goal from the 1, putting the Highlanders ahead 14-6.
Mesquite, with the help of a penalty, kept The Woodlands from extending the lead to two touchdowns late in the first half.
The Woodlands quarterback Lance Miles appeared to score on a 17-yard run, but a hold brought the Highlanders back to the Mesquite 26. The Skeeters held from there, keeping them within one score going to intermission.
With the Skeeters' frustrations on offense, The Woodlands gained a significant edge with Marshall Bainton's 29-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter.
Bainton's kick followed defensive lineman Mitchell Meyers' interception of Mesquite quarterback Alex Cooper that gave the Highlanders the ball at the Mesquite 10.
Woodyard scored his third touchdown later in the fourth quarter to help ice the game for The Highlanders.
As Robinson directed his team off the field on the blustery afternoon, he felt some sense of satisfaction with the Skeeters' season.
"I'm very proud of all our coaches did and very proud of all our players did," Robinson said.