Mesa High, facing the state's leading rusher, showed off a potent ground game of its own on Friday night.
The Jackrabbits rushed the ball 40 times for 270 yards and three touchdowns, leading to a 34-24 victory over Dobson and their first victory of the season.
“Our guys decided that it had to stop somewhere and tonight was the night," Mesa coach Kelley Moore said. “They played like Jackrabbits of old tonight and we hit the daylights out of them and that was sweet."
On the first play of the second half, Dobson running back T.J. Thomas broke free for a 75-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 21. After a missed field goal by Mesa, Dobson drove down the field but again stalled in the red zone and settled for a 28-yard field goal by Brian Franklin and its first lead of the game at 24-21.
The fourth quarter belonged to Mesa as the Jackrabbits took the lead on a 30-yard touchdown pass by Jeremy Noble to Tyus Smith.
“We just looked at their coverage and said let's run this pass pattern and change this route and it worked out well for us," Moore said. "We had to have it. We have improved every week we just have not been executing at all, but tonight our defense came up big in the first half and then played their tails off in the second half”."
Dobson was forced to punt with 3:47 left in the game. Mesa would start its game-clinching drive from the 21-yard line and sealed the win on a 10-yard touchdown run by Jordan Wiatr. On the final drive, Dobson had two personal foul penalties that helped move the Jackrabbits down the field.
The Mustangs had jumped out to a 3-1 start to the season behind the play of Thomas, the state's leading rusher. He came into the game averaging 286 yards on 23 carries per game. Against Mesa, Thomas carried the ball 23 times for 135 yards and two touchdowns.
“T.J. is the man, they (Mesa) put the whole team on him, and we knew they were going to do that,” Dobson coach Alex Jacobson said. “He is a Division I football player at the next level but more importantly having his leadership on this team is what we need. What’s important to me is how we respond next week."
Mesa had lost its first four games of the season by an average of 24.5 points per game. The Jackrabbits (1-4) used a balanced running game and a couple of defensive stops in the red zone late in the second quarter to take a 21-14 lead at halftime. Thomas had a questionable fumble at the 1-yard line with less than 5 minutes left. Then, after forcing Mesa to punt from its own end zone, Dobson was unable to convert a fourth-and-goal from inside the 5-yard line.
“We've got a good football team," Jacobson said. "We just have to fix the little things."