Alto struggled early in its Class A Division I Region III bi-district playoff against Harleton, but five Wildcat turnovers turned the tide.

Joe Cruz was a huge part of that momentum shift.

The 5-foot-9, 155-pound Alto defensive back accounted for three of those turnovers, picking off two passes and recovering a fumble that he returned 97 yards for a touchdown in the Yellowjackets' 35-9 victory. For his efforts, Cruz is the Dairy Queen Defensive Player of the Week.

Each of the senior's interceptions halted Harleton drives, but the backbreaker was the 97-yard fumble return for a touchdown, which put the momentum squarely in Alto's corner after the Yellowjackets had struggled early on to build a lead against the underdog Wildcats.

"Joe had an outstanding night," said Alto coach Keith Gardner. "Joe is a great kid that loves to play the game. The fumble recovery turned the tide in the game."

Alto's Zac Sturns hit Johnathon Pope for a 69-yard, go-ahead touchdown pass for a 14-9 lead early in the third quarter, but Harleton marched down the field and appeared poised to take its third lead of the game. That's when Alto knock the ball loose from Wildcat tailback Coleman Campbell's grip inside the Yellowjacket 5-yard line, and Cruz scooped and scored from 97 yards for a crippling defensive touchdown and 21-9 advantage.

Alto never looked back. Standout tailback Jacolby Whitaker scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns to put Harleton away.

This week, Cruz and the Jacket defense face an 8-3 Hull-Daisetta team averaging 44.3 points per game during a six-game winning streak Alto faces Hull-Daisetta at 2 p.m. Friday at Abe Martin Stadium in Lufkin.

Dairy Queen Defensive Players of the Week

Nov. 15-17: Joe Cruz, DB, Alto
Nov. 8-10: 
Tyus Bowser, DE, John Tyler
Nov. 1-3: 
A.J. Davis, LB, Kilgore
Oct. 25-27: 
Corey Bartley, FS, Longview
Oct. 18-20: 
Syd Moore, DT, Van
Oct. 11-13: 
Eric Berryhill, LB, Hughes Springs
Oct. 4-6: 
LaDarrin Anthony, DT, Kilgore
Sept. 27-29: Arqez Walton, LB, Henderson
Sept. 20-22: Benny Colbert, DB, Kilgore
Sept. 13-15: DeQuante Woods, DB, John Tyler
Sept. 6-8: Corey Bartley, FS, Longview
Aug. 30-Sept. 1: Coby Bradford, DE, Hallsville