MESQUITE – Melissa’s Cardinals are back in the playoff-win column.

The Cards (8-3) rolled past Dallas Lincoln’s Tigers, 36-14, on Thursday in a Class 4A Region 2 bi-district playoff contest at Memorial Stadium. Melissa forced four first-half turnovers and led, 23-0, at the break then withstood Lincoln’s 14-point third-quarter rally for the win.

“It feels good,” Cards head coach Seth Stinton said. “I thought our guys played awesome. We started the second half and kind of floundered just a little bit and I thought our guys really responded. … They stopped the guys we needed to stop. We felt like they had a couple of weapons that we felt like we needed to make sure we stopped, and we did that. It’s a big win for us. I’m very proud of our kids.”

Lincoln (7-4) was held to 184 yards of total offense, with 73 of that coming on one touchdown throw in the third quarter. Melissa freshman Kaedric Cobbs led all rushers with 126 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries. Fellow freshman Ja’Bray Young roamed for 52 yards on 12 carries.

Junior Payton Wallace set up Melissa’s first score with a first-quarter interception at the Tigers’ 29-yard-line. Three plays later, Cards junior quarterback Tate Whittington connected with junior Drew Cummings in a front-corner of the end zone for a 26-yard touchdown strike.

Lincoln was driving early in the second quarter when quarterback Lamarsay Austin was pressured by Melissa’s senior Garrett Heinz and lost the ball to junior Vincent Rangel, who fell on it on the Cards’ 30.

After punts by both teams, Melissa put together its best drive of the game — 74 yards in 11 plays — capped by Cobbs’ 6-yard touchdown run. The march was sparked by Cobbs runs of 14 and 11 yards, and a 17-yard pass from Whittington to junior Cole McCraw.

The Tigers fumbled the ensuing kickoff to Melissa’s senior Gabe Rodriguez at Lincoln’s 30-yard-line. Four plays later Cards freshman quarterback Brendon Lewis, rotating with Whittington much of the game, scampered in for the score from one yard out.

Lincoln’s last drive of the half was snuffed when senior Antonio Tamez picked off a Keion’Tay Coleman pass at the Cards’ 40.

Down 23-0, the Tigers bounced back in the third quarter soon after Young’s kickoff-return touchdown to open the second half was erased by a Melissa penalty. Capitalizing on an interception off Lewis, Austin found the end zone for Lincoln on a 2-yard touchdown run. Later that stanza, the Tigers struck with the 73-yard bomb from Coleman to Devodric Bynum.

With Lincoln closing in, down 23-14 to open the final quarter, Whittington would lead the Cards on two touchdown drives to seal the victory. Melissa’s offensive line opened nice holes on the first march, with Cobbs rambling for 5, 6, 10 and 12 yards on successive plays. Whittington ended the drive with a 3-yard touchdown run.

On the Tigers’ next possession, Marvin Jordan batted away a deep pass to a seemingly open Lincoln receiver and Wallace registered a sack, forcing the Tigers into a desperation 4th-down try from their own 38-yard-line. Coleman’s pass fell incomplete and four plays later, Cobbs danced into the end zone from 10 yards out for the Cards’ final margin of victory.

The Whittington and Lewis rotated at signal-caller each series in the first half, with Whittington playing most all of the second.

“Both of them do great things,” Stinton said. “And that’s what we want to make sure that we see. Tate’s obviously our guy and he’s going to get in there and lead us. And Brendon, he’s just a good guy and we want to make sure he gets in and gets some reps. It was important for us to do that. He’s a good football player — both of those two guys are — so that’s why we decided to do that.”

Melissa will face Gilmer (10-1) in the Area round on Friday, Nov. 18, at Mesquite Hanby Stadium.