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Monsters Dodge Bears and Move up to #5

The ball hung suspended in the night sky, rotating end over end as the entire crowd at John Mickelson Field held its collective breath. Moments later, the ball struck high off the right crossbar and fluttered back to earth like a wounded duck. A deafening roar of applause exploded because Eastern Arizona College had just dodged a bullet from visiting Phoenix College. The Gila Monsters escaped with a 41-38 win. Phoenix kicker Treg Jeffery had already blasted a 56-yard field goal in the first half, but his 47-yard game-tying attempt was inches off to the right. No. 7 EAC (4-0, 1-0) trailed 38-35 late in the fourth quarter after a 9-yard touchdown run by Phoenix halfback Tim House with 4:24 remaining in the game. The Monsters drove down to the Bears' 4-yard line, but faced fourth down with under one minute left. EAC head coach John O'Mera called his last timeout to talk it over with his players. Quarterback Pat Riley begged O'Mera to let him go for the touchdown instead of kicking the field goal. "I told (O'Mera), 'I got you,'" Riley said.O'Mera thought about it, and because kicker Stephen Holmes wasn't feeling 100 percent, he decided to go for it. The ball was snapped to Riley, and he scrambled out of the pocket to his right. The Phoenix (0-3, 0-1) defense was converging on him fast, and it looked as if he had nowhere to go — until Riley saw tight end Andrew Berryhill alone in the end zone. Riley threw a strike on the run to Berryhill, and the Monsters took a 41-38 lead. An extra point would have ensured Phoenix could not tie the game with a field goal, but the hobbled Holmes missed it.

Phoenix then drove down the field before missing the field goal that would have sent the game to overtime. "It was heart-wrenching," Riley said. "It had you scared for a moment, and your defense comes through, and you come back again. "It just had you on your tiptoes the whole game." O'Mera said the Bears are a better team than their record indicates. "They're going to beat some teams (in the WSFL)," he said. A big area of concern for O'Mera and the rest of the coaching staff is the (mostly undisciplined) penalties. The Monsters committed 14 penalties for 104 yards against Phoenix. "We're not a good enough team to overcome (that many) penalties," O'Mera said.

The normally dominant EAC defense was torched for 494 total yards, including 329 on the ground. The Monsters had three players with over 60 yards rushing — Mike Smith (65), Darious Jackson (65) and Riley (63, TD). Eastern again received a big lift from its special teams. Sophomore Marquise Enoch returned a punt 76 yards for a touchdown early in the third quarter to give EAC a 28-17 lead. Riley completed three of six passes for 70 yards and two touchdowns, and quarterback Stanford Leti completed one of two throws for 37 yards and a score. Riley admitted that the Monsters took Phoenix too lightly. Maybe this game was enough of a scare to make sure Eastern’s players don’t let it happen again.

Written by Brian Wright, Sports Editor

Eastern Arizona College