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Monsters Fall to #7 Snow


Good fortune was not a friend of the Eastern Arizona College football team this week. After being ranked for the first time in decades at No. 19, the Gila Monsters traveled to Ephraim, Utah, to do battle with the Snow College Badgers, which was ranked No. 7. EAC's time in the Top 20 was a short trip because the Badgers topped the Monsters 20-14 on Saturday. Although this week's poll was not released before press time, one would believe that, given Eastern's history, pollsters will probably deny EAC's opportunity to remain ranked. Those who vote have good reason to leave the Monsters out because EAC committed a glaring six turnovers in the game. Those follies included two picks and four fumbles, something EAC head coach John O'Mera called "unacceptable." "We had our chances to win the football game, and we don't think we played very well because of all the turnovers," O'Mera said. "All you can ask for is that we had a chance to win it."

Eastern's chance to beat the Badgers came after Snow's defensive lineman Tonga Tea was called for an unsportsmanlike penalty when Tea chose to utter a few too many expletives at the EAC offense. Snow led the game 14-6 midway through the third quarter, when the penalty halted the Badgers' momentum. EAC running back Jimmie Beard capped off a 10-play, 81-yard-drive with a 1-yard rushing TD following the penalty and punt. Terrance Jones caught a PAT pass from quarterback Gabe Eliserio to knot the game at 14-14.

EAC's running game, its key attack on offense, suffered a big blow in the third quarter as fullback Lester Graham was pulled from the game with an injury. The loss of Graham severely limited the Monsters' up-the-gut running game. "When (Graham) went down, that really hurt us," O'Mera said. "We don't have a guy that is really ready to step right in yet."

Jones was EAC's leading rusher with 52 yards on 10 carries. The key moment and chance for EAC to pull out the 'W' came late in the fourth quarter. Snow running back Matt Asiata scampered 28 yards to make the score 20-14, and the Badgers botched the extra point attempt, swinging the door wide open for the Monsters. Kicking has been the Achilles heel for Snow all year because the Badgers have converted only two of 11 field goals all year. "After that (Snow's missed extra point), we were thinking score, make the extra point and we win the game," O'Mera said. "You know, you have to be kind of happy as an underdog type of team, though, to go into that hostile environment in front of a packed house and have two chances to win the game with under four minutes left."

EAC fumbled on its ensuing possession, giving Snow the chance to go up another score, but last week's Western States Football League (WSFL) Defensive Player of the Week Armondo Murillo picked off a Snow pass, which gave the Monsters another chance. LaMont Downing fumbled for the second time of the game, though, and Snow watched the remaining seconds tick off the clock to secure the win. "We played a good football team. They're the type of team that could win a national championship," O'Mera said. "Other than its kicking game they are an outstanding football team." "To have six turnovers and be within six points of a team like that is something that you'd have to be happy about," O'Mera said. "We're lucky we didn't get blown out turning it over that many times."

EAC's defense, which hadn't surrendered a point all season, is still tops in the WSFL. "Our defense didn't play great, but they played good," O'Mera said. "We put them in some bad situations all night long; we just can't turn it over like we did." EAC did get off to a decent start when the Monsters scored on a 70-yard touchdown pass from Eliserio to former Safford Bulldog CJ Gardner in the second quarter to make the score 7-6. Gardner had a total of 114 receiving yards on only two catches. Snow answered that score on the ensuing possession with a James Pritchard rushing TD to increase the Badger lead to 14-6 before Beard tied the score in the third.

Eastern now has the daunting task of facing the No. 8-ranked team in the land, Glendale, on Saturday, and O'Mera expects much of the same type of team he saw in Ephraim. "They're the same kind of team as Snow. They're a physical offense and have a possession-type throwing game," O'Mera said. "We've got to prepare ourselves to go out and try to beat a good football team at their house."

Story written by Andy Hansen of the Eastern Arizona Courier