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Dodge City, KS (westernkansasnews.com)-Dodge City running back Willie Jackson felt like he had something to prove.
In 2015, Jackson was the final man out in a backfield loaded with special team’s player of the year Dominique Carson, and all-purpose back Kingjack Washington.
But with Carson sidelined with ankle injury on Saturday, Jackson showed the rest of the league that’s he definitely worthy of being the main man.
Jackson tallied three of his four rushing touchdowns in the first half, Derrick Bernard added five scores of his own, and Dodge City blitzed their way to a 62-42 win over Mesquite at United Wireless Arena.
“Willie was our MVP tonight,” Law Head Coach Sean Ponder said. “I kept telling everyone that we’re not a one-trick pony. Tonight we proved it.”
Jackson had Dodge City (2-0) out to a 14-0 lead before most fans had made it to their seats. A one-yard score followed by a five-yard sprint, and the Law had a two-touchdown edge with 5:45 left in the first quarter.
Later in the half, Jackson added a 23-yard reception that set the Law up first-and-goal at the 7. Two plays later, he punctuated the drive with his third touchdown of the first half: a 3-yard scamper off of left guard that gave Dodge City a 27-7 advantage.
“We started 6-1 last year and didn’t make the playoffs, so I’m not getting too far ahead of myself,” Ponder said. “I realized I had to be a better coach for us to make a run. We’ll see what happens.”
Bernard was steady again under center, completing 14-of-23 passes for 168 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. The pick came on a perfectly thrown ball that caromed off the shoulder pads of Julian Walker in the the end zone that landed in the hands of Marshal’s corner Reggie Calhoun, who returned it 30 yards to the Dodge City 20.
“He’s (Bernard) only going to get better,” Ponder said of his quarterback. “He’s making great decisions with the football.”
The rookie quarterback’s best throw of the night came in the second quarter. On second-and-goal from the 8, Bernard scrambled left before throwing a dart back across his body to Daniel McKinney, who snagged the ball away from defensive back Jamal Smith for a touchdown.
“Derrick can throw it from so many different angles,” Ponder said. “Plus, he’s a great athlete.”
His final touchdown toss came in the fourth quarter, when he hit Walker on a crossing pattern for a 15-yard score to give the Law a 55-34 cushion with 14:00 to play. He added a sensational 13-yard touchdown run later in the period that put the game out of reach.
“This was a complete team effort,” Ponder explained. “We got a lot of contributions with Carson out.”
It also helped that, for much of the night, Mesquite (0-1) couldn’t get out of their own way. The Marshals were flagged 17 times for 119 yards with half of those coming on illegal formation infractions. In all, Mesquite was penalized at least once on all but four possessions.
Mesquite didn’t get the transmission out of neutral until early in the second on Kolton Browning’s nine-yard bolt to the end zone that pulled the Marshals to within 13 at 20-7. The first-year signal caller and former Louisiana Monroe star finished with 14 carries for 42 yards and a score. He was also 13-of-21 throwing for 99 yards and three touchdowns.
But he threw two costly interceptions, the first of those came on the final play of the first half that, incredibly, nearly resulted in points for Mesquite.
On second-and-15 from the Marshal 15, Browning underthrew Brandon Rasco in the end zone, and Dwayne Autry gobbled it up. But instead of going down, Autry inexplicably tossed the ball back to Caleb Young, who darted across the goal line before flipping it back to Cashmin Thomas in the end zone. Thomas eventually was tackled along the back wall. After a quick discussion, the referees ruled it a safety. But after a longer look, the officials changed the call and ruled Autry down by contact, nullifying the two points.
It was a wild ending to an all-but mundane first-half for Mesquite.
“Our defense played really well,” Ponder said. “We struggled a little bit in the second half, but all in all, they played a good game.”
The first quarter proved that. The Law held the Marshalls to minus-25 yards of total offense through the first 15 minutes.
Dodge City led 34-13 at the half.
Bernard added a four-yard touchdown run early in the third, and Jackson scored from three yards out later in the period to stretch the lead to 48-26.
Browning countered for Mesquite with a nine-yard touchdown toss to Anthony Alexander and a seven-yard scoring strike to tight end Christopher Brown. He added a meaningless td pass in the final minutes, when he found Alexander streaking along the back of the end zone.
Jackson finished the night with 51 yards rushing on 12 carries for Dodge City. Jeffery reeled in four receptions for 59 yards. McKinney had four catches for 46 and a touchdown.
Williams carried the ball six times for 12 yards for the Marshals. Anthony Alexander had six catches for 52 yards and two touchdowns.
Next up: Dodge City at San Angelo-Saturday, March 12 6:30 p.m. pregame; 7:05 p.m. kick on 98.1 FM; westernkansasnews.com/kskz; mobile app: KSKZ and tuneinradio app: KSKZ