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Defense Shines in Win Over NMMI

The ability to win close games when necessary is the mark of a championship football team. Eastern Arizona College gutted out a 23-13 victory over New Mexico Military Institute in Thatcher on Saturday night. It was the third time this year the Gila Monsters (7-0, 4-0 WSFL) won a game by 10 points or less. “If you’re going to win a championship, you gotta have a few breaks,” EAC head coach John O’Mera said. “The ball has to bounce your way. “We know in the past, we’ve had the ball bounce the other way.” Safford native Steven Holmes kicked a 30-yard field goal early in the first quarter to give the Monsters a 3-0 lead. The Broncos took a 7-3 lead early in the second quarter on a 3-yard touchdown run by Cortea Minor. Eastern quarterback Pat Riley grabbed the lead back for the Monsters with a 24-yard touchdown run, which was punctuated by his dive through the air over the end zone pylon.

With EAC up 10-7 just before halftime, the Monsters faced a third-and-25 from the NMMI 35-yard line. Eastern had taken a timeout and thought about a field goal but decided to go for it. Riley rolled out of the pocket to look for a receiver, but everyone was covered. Teammates were yelling for him to throw the ball (there was under 10 seconds left in the half), but Riley weaved his way in and out of traffic like Houdini and was shoved out of bounds at the 1-yard line with two seconds left. He would score on a quarterback keeper on the next play to give the Monsters a 17-7 halftime lead.

NMMI came into the game as the No. 1 rushing offense in the nation at 353 yards per game. Eastern’s defense dominated the Broncos’ option running attack and allowed just 151 yards on the ground. Monsters linebacker Dan Foster, a former Florida State University signee, blew up NMMI runners all night. He had a game for the ages with 24 total tackles (14 solo) and four tackles for a loss. The Broncos closed the gap to 17-13 late in the third quarter, but a Terrance Jones 39-yard touchdown run gave Eastern a 23-13 lead with one minute left in the fourth quarter.

The Monsters rushed for 304 yards to overtake NMMI as the nation’s top rushing offense. Riley had 104 yards rushing and two scores, and Mike Smith added 41 yards on four carries. “I think we believe we’re going to win, and that’s the key,” O’Mera said. “We believe we’re good, and that we’re going to win these kind of football games.”

Eastern, still ranked No. 4 in the NJCAA poll, takes on No. 15 Mesa on the road Oct. 20 after a bye week. Foster was named Defensive Player of the Week in the WSFL.

Story written by Bright Wright, Sports Editor

Eastern Arizona Courier