The “Carry On” mantra that is so closely associated with the Mesa football program continually takes on different meanings depending on the situation.
Another one cropped up in the Jackrabbits’ 41-7 win over longtime rival Westwood on Thursday to open East Valley Region play in 6A Conference action.
Mesa headed into the halftime up 14-7 knowing it would start the second half with the ball. What no one knew was that the Jackrabbits had to do it without head coach Kap Sikahema, who remained in the locker room with a medical issue.
Two plays into the second half, senior running back Kris Jackson was patient, waited for the blocks to develop and broke off a 73-yard touchdown run, heading toward the end zone where the lights for the ambulance called for Sikahema were flashing.
“I just took a water break,” said Sikahema, who refused to leave with the ambulance. “I had to see my team through. I ask them to give me their all so I had to do the same for them.”
Sikahema, who said he didn’t plan on visitng an ER, missed another spectacular showing by Jackson and a Jackrabbit defense that had its best game of the year.
A week after setting the school record with 341 yards, Jackson followed it up 324 yards, unofficially, on 23 carries with four touchdowns while the defense forced four Westwood turnovers (two fumbles, two interceptions) and made three stops on fourth down as the Warriors started to take chances to get back in the game.
“We are coming together and gelling,” said assistant coach Junior Taylor, who took over for Sikahema. “You hate to say that in Week 6, but we are. The defense did a great job. (Westwood) scored early, but we started getting stops and the ball. Our defense played outstanding.
“It allowed us to give the ball Kris Jackson and our offense and allowed them to do the rest of the work.”
Osaiasi Taueli and Lingi Havea had fumble recoveries, while Marquis Owens and Darius Hatch had interceptions.
The biggest takeaway might have come from Hatch.
The Jackrabbits (3-4, 1-0) came up short on a 4th-and-8 attempt on Jackson’s 6-yard run to give Westwood (3-4, 0-2) the ball on its own 44 with :44.4 second left before the half, but Carter Layton’s pass down the left sideline was picked by Hatch.
“The offense came off the field, and we knew we couldn’t let them score there,” The senior strong safety said. “I read the quarterback and went after the ball.”
The Jackrabbits offense took over from there with Jackson scoring twice in the second half, while Mesa quarterback Nate Hanna (8 pf 11 for 148) connected with Marcus Taylor for 55-yards down the seam on blown coverage and Boyd Mox on a fade into the end zone from 17-yards out for the final score.
“I was real patient,” said Jackson, who is closing in on 1,500 yards rushing for the season. “I just had to wait on my line to create a gap. (Westwood) was terrified of (guard) Lingi Havea. He would pull and they would move out of the way and I’d follow him.”
It was the third straight win for the Jackrabbits over Westwood, and one thing was very apparent to first-year coach Kyle Ide.
“We got dinged up and they didn’t come back in,” said Ide, referring to running back Junior Sonasi and others. “Our game plan went out the window when that happened and we had to change things. (Mesa) made adjustments and we didn’t as well.
“When we play teams that physical we are not stepping up. We have to get stronger. That’s offseason stuff we have to work on.”
The turnovers didn’t help either. Two of those came from senior Manny Collier, who had the Warriors only score on a 25-yard pass perfectly placed by Layton.
“That’s that my job right, there. I can’t let that happen. I will work on it in practice and keep the ball protected.”
– Jason P. Skoda is a senior writer for MyNewsMesa.com. Send Mesa-based story ideas to email@example.com.
Mesa 41, Westwood 7
Mesa 7 7 20 7-41
WHS 7 0 0 0-7
W- Collier 25 pass from Layton (Gonzalez kick), 9:33
M – Jackson 1 run (Espinoza kick), 32.6
M – Jackson 63 run (Espinoza kick), 4:32
M – Jackson 73 run (Espinoza kick), 10:41
M – Taylor 55 pass from Hanna (Espinoza kick), 7:08
M – Jackson 8 run (Hanna pass inc.), :32.3
M – Mox 17 pass from Hanna (Espinoza kick), 2:56
First downs 16 15
Rush-yards 30-318 34-137
Comp-Att-Int 8-11-0 9-19-2
Pass yards 148 87
Total yards 466 224
Fumbles/Lost 1/0 3/2
Pen-yards 9-100 9-75
M – Jackson 23-324, Hanna 3-(-)24, Mox 1-(-2), Hatch 2-20. W – Horne 1-0, Collier 5-32, Layton 7-30, Sonasi 3-21, Burchard 10-32, Neeley 7-19.
M – Hanna 8-11-0-148. W – Layton 9-19-2-87.
M – Taylor 4-84, Mox 1-17, McClendon 2-34, Foster 1-13. W – Driggs 1-11, Collier 2-31, Sonasi 1-10, Pamer 2-17, Whiting 1-7, Burhard 1-(-)2.