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Monsters Upend #4 Dixie State College


Eastern Arizona College football is back in the national map. Saturday's 27-13 win over fourth ranked Dixie State College (DSC) was the biggest in EAC football history since Eastern topped then-No. 1 ranked Snow College under former head coach Scott Giles. "It's a big-time win for this program, and we've gotten ourselves a lot of respectability," EAC head coach John O'Mera said. "I think that we believed we were a lot better than we were, and we got humbled the last couple of weeks. "For us to bounce back and beat a program like (Dixie) is just a great win for our program," O'Mera said. Eastern's offensive power came courtesy of Chris Jinks' first-quarter blocked punt, which he picked up and scampered 20 yards for the game's first score. Lester Graham had a pair of TD, runs and kicker Sergio Velasco was a perfect 2-for-2, nailing field goals from 34 and 41 yards, respectively.

Graham, who had 79 rushing yards against Dixie, was ecstatic after the win. "We always knew that we could play like a top ranked football team," Graham said. "We lost to (New Mexico Military Institute) last week, and that knocked us out of a bowl game, so we had to come in here and beat No. 4, and we did it." Graham is one of several EAC players who transferred from other junior colleges throughout the nation, and Saturday's win is one reason Graham is in the Gila Valley. "When I saw the team we had, I thought, 'We can be No. 1 in the nation if we want to,' " Graham said. "We just had to put it together, and just like all my coaches have told me, 'A team that plays together, stays together,' and that's what we're doing," Graham said. EAC's offense and defense came to play on Saturday night and rebounded well after last week's loss to New Mexico Military. Jinks' punt block and subsequent touchdown gave Eastern an early 7-0 advantage. EAC drove inside its own red zone later in the first quarter, but quarterback Gabe Eliserio made one of his few mistakes of the game and was picked of in the end zone with 4:05 remaining in the first. On Dixie's ensuing possession, EAC defensive back Armando Murillo intercepted DSC quarterback Corey Slater for his fifth pick of the season. Murillo was pumped up after Eastern's win and tooted the EAC defense's horn a little bit. "Run-stop, pass-block — it doesn't matter," Murillo said. "We've got the No. 1 defense in the land; we just beat the No. 4 team in the land, and it don't get much better than this, baby!" Velasco booted his 34-yard field goal with 10:39 remaining in the second quarter, and DSC couldn't get anything rolling offensively. EAC led 10-0. Slater was a dismal 14-19 for 52 yards passing and threw two INTs. EAC controlled the line of scrimmage in the first half, and DSC crossed into Eastern territory once in the first half.

Dixie came out with revenge on their mind in the third quarter when Bo Hikila scored on a 25-yard TD run on the Rebels' first possession of the third. Dixie trailed 10-7. DSC kicker Steve Webster hit a 37-yard field goal in the third, but a penalty moved the Rebels back five yards and nullified the made kick. Webster's second try from 42 yards missed, and EAC dodged a bullet and still led 10-7. Graham, who saw his first significant amount of playing time since being injured, went 33 yards up the middle of the field for an Eastern score after Webster's botched kick, and Eastern held a 17-7 advantage. Running back Amos Allen (10 carries, 54 yards) picked up two huge first downs during the drive, leading up to Graham's scoring run. "This is the first time since the Pima game (a 62-0 EAC win) that we've been healthy offensively," O'Mera said. "It was nice to have Lester back, and Amos had a couple of runs that were just huge. He was able to make some people miss tonight, something that we haven't done a lot of in the past two weeks. O'Mera said that Allen's big plays were probably some of the key plays in the game. DSC answered Graham's scored with a 35-yard run by last week's NJCAA offensive player of the week Glen Milner, and Eastern's lead was trimmed to 17-13. "When you play Dixie, you've got to do everything right," O'Mera said. "We did a pretty good job, defensively, except for in the third quarter when we got a little rattled. "You've got to take your hat off to our kids," O'Mera said. "We got ourselves composed (after Dixie's two scores), and the defense went out and really held them from there on out." Velasco hit his 41-yard field goal at 6:11 in the third, and EAC led 20-13.

On the Rebels' ensuing drive, Slater was hit hard in the backfield by Jinks, and Slater's throw was picked off by Altron Boudreaux on the Dixie 28-yard line. On the ensuing EAC possesion, Bobby Dunbar fumbled on third-and-four at the 28-yard line, giving Dixie the ball back. Eastern forced a fourth-and-15, and Slater was leveled by Danzel Issac for a sack. Issac's sack led to Graham's 6-yard TD romp with 3:23 remaining, giving EAC a 27-13 lead. Graham's touchdown was the straw that broke the Rebels' back and sealed the historic EAC win.

EAC quarterback Gabe Eliserio did another great job of leading the Monsters' offense and was Eastern's leading rusher with 97 yards on the ground. EAC (4-3) will face Mesa (4-3) on Saturday in its next WSFL action. Mesa topped Arizona Western 21-20 Saturday. With Mesa, EAC, New Mexico Military Institute and Scottsdale all having 3-3 WSFL records, Saturday's game will surely shake up the league standings.

Andy Hansen, Sports Editor Eastern Arizona Courier