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Monsters Fall to NMMI


It was like watching two different games in one three-hour sitting. Eastern Arizona College lost the battle of two totally different halves of football when New Mexico Military Institute topped the Gila Monsters 38-34 Saturday night at John T. Mickelson Field. The atmosphere was electric at the beginning of Saturday's homecoming game between the Monsters and the Broncos. The sound of the national anthem raised the hair on the backs of people's necks, numerous fireworks fired off to the sound of "home of the brave," and the stadium rattled with excitement. Eastern's offense was electrifying to start the game, as well, when Arthur Weaver sprinted 29 yards for an EAC touchdown only two minutes and 13 seconds into the game. EAC increased its lead to 14-0 when quarterback Gabe Eliserio scampered 41 yards for a TD, and Eastern appeared to have the game wrapped up. "I was really confident," EAC head coach John O'Mera said about his team's early 14-0 advantage. "I thought we had everything going. We looked sharp, and then they made some adjustments, and down near the end I think their kids just wanted it more than we did."

The Broncos scored on their third drive of the night when Sheridan Forte romped 16 yards for the Broncos' first score of the night. Eastern increased its advantage to 21-7 after Bobby Dunbar had a 6-yard TD run, but Broncos kicker Brad Fields nailed a 23-yard field goal, bringing the score to 21-10. The most telling play of the game came on the ensuing kickoff when the Broncos caught Eastern off guard with an on-side kick that the Institute recovered. Broncos running back Eric Hart took advantage of the Monsters' special team's miscue and scored on a 4-yard TD run with 33 seconds left in the half. The once-promising first half dwindled to a slim 21-17 lead for the Gila Monsters. "Probably the biggest play of the game was the on-side kick they recovered right before half," O'Mera said. "That was the true momentum switch. I thought that we took the momentum back when we scored in the second half, but I can't say enough about what they did to get the game back on their side and control the game."

Eastern's first score in the second half was a 4-yard TD run, which gave the Monsters a 28-17 lead, but the Broncos came back with another Evans touchdown on the next series, cutting Eastern's lead to 28-24. The Gila Monsters' defense, which had allowed only 52 points all season long, had gone soft, and the Broncos rattled off two more touchdowns to give themselves a 38-28 advantage. "The biggest trouble for us, defensively, is that we're a little beaten up — but that's no excuse," O'Mera said. "Somebody still has to step up and play. They are recruited athletes in there, and they've got to play like that or someone else will step in."

The second half was the polar opposite of the first as the Eastern defense allowed the Broncos to score at will, and the offense had trouble clicking after its initial score of the second half. The Broncos' final touchdown brought a deafening silence to the Gila Monsters' packed house, a sound that was much different from the one that started the game. Eastern did have one last hurrah, albeit a nonfactor, when Eliserio threw a 42-yard TD strike to the streaking CJ Gardner with the game clock reading zeros, leaving the final score 38-34. "Our game plan was to basically run the ball, keep the clock moving and do what we do best," Eliserio said. "When we came out at first, we were doing just that. There were no problems, and in the second half, I don't know what happened." The second half cast a dreary fog over Saturday's homecoming game, which was the fourth consecutive homecoming loss for the Gila Monsters.

The Monsters dropped to 3-3 on the season and 2-3 in the Western States Football League (WSFL). New Mexico Military improved to 5-2 and 3-2. Saturday's win propelled the Broncos into a tie for third in the WSFL. Eastern is sitting in the fourth spot in the WSFL, tied with Mesa. "We've got to go back to the basics and get healthy," O'Mera said. "We've just got to improve. The biggest thing is that we've got to take a look at our defense and make some moves to deepen us up on that side of the ball. "I was surprised they were able to run the ball at us that well," O'Mera said. The Broncos had 115 yards rushing on the night, and Eastern had 173. Eliserio was, once again, a constant force for the EAC offense, leading the team in rushing with 88 yards, and he completed four of six passes for 176 yards. Dunbar had 49 yards rushing, and Lester Graham had 41 on one carry. "We've just got to forget about this loss and write it off as a bad nightmare," O'Mera said.

Eastern now has the task of facing Dixie State, which upended Snow College on Saturday night, 48-21. Dixie State is 6-1 overall, 4-1 in the WSFL and is second in the league standings behind Glendale. Saturday's home game will mark the final time EAC will play Dixie State because the Rebels will be moving out of the NJCAA next season.

Article written by Andy Hansen of the Eastern Arizona Courier