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Eastern Stumbles at Mesa


Special teams are called "special" for a reason, but Eastern Arizona College's kicking game was anything but special Saturday night. After a huge win last week against then fourth-ranked Dixie State College, EAC lost a heartbreaker to Mesa Comm-unity College on Saturday night, 27-26. A pair of extra points by EAC kicker Sergio Velasco failed to sail through the uprights (one was blocked), and those two points proved to be the difference maker against the Thunderbirds. "That was a tough one to swallow," EAC head coach John O'Mera said. "Last week, our kicking game won us the game, and this week, it lost us the football game. "You can't point your finger totally at the kicking game because we had some other opportunities," O'Mera said. "Offensively, we were in scoring position three times and didn't come away with any points."

Eastern (4-4 overall, 3-4 conference) saw Mesa explode to a 7-0 advantage in the first quarter when Chad Baniecki scored from 6 yards out on a TD run. EAC countered Mesa's score with one of its own later in the first quarter when Amos Allen scampered 65 yards to put EAC in the red zone. Allen's run set up a 1-yard TD plunge by Lester Graham, and with 1:16 left in the first quarter, the game was tied 7-7. Eastern cornerback Ted Riley picked off a Mesa pass at the Thunderbirds' own 15-yard line, and quarterback Gabe Eliserio capitalized on Riley's interception when he scampered 7 yards to give EAC a 14-7 lead. Allen continued his offensive excellence with a 54-yard run to the Mesa 32-yard line, but Velasco missed a 44-yard field goal wide-left, spoiling a chance for an Eastern score. Mesa drove to the EAC 23-yard line with three seconds remaining in the half and sent kicker Andrew Strickland out to attempt a 30-yard field goal. Eastern's defense came up big when Armando Murillo blocked the kick to leave the score 14-7 for EAC at the break.

The third quarter was a defensive chess match, and neither the Monsters' nor the Thunderbirds' offense could overcome the other team's stellar defensive play. It wasn't until 4:24 remained in the third quarter that EAC fullback Bobby Dunbar scored the half's first points on a 1-yard TD run. Velasco missed the extra point wide-left, and EAC led 20-7. Mesa had its own struggles in the kicking department after Baniecki scored on a 2-yard run when Strickland had his kick blocked by Eastern, and EAC was clinging to a 20-13 lead with the fourth quarter just getting under way.

The biggest moment of Saturday's contest took place on the game's next two possessions. EAC running back Arthur Weaver ran 62 yards into Mesa territory, but EAC couldn't get within kicking distance and had to punt. Kevin Robledo punted the ball to Mesa's own 1-yard line, leaving Mesa 99 yards from the goal line. Slowly, but surely, Mesa moved the ball down the field and tied the game at 20-20 with 7:55 left. "Defensively, we let them off the hook, and they drove the ball 99 yards to beat us," O'Mera said. "That's a disappointment, but they were a good football team, and we played pretty good except in a couple of spots."

EAC's offense didn't quit, however, and after a long Dunbar run, Graham scored from 1 yard out. Velasco's extra point attempt was blocked, and EAC held a 26-20 advantage. Mesa went ahead for good when Marko Mitchell caught a long pass, and as he was being dragged down by Riley, Mitchell lateralled the ball to Jeremy Edwards, who ran the rest of the way for a 41-yard TD reception. Mesa led, 27-26, and EAC was forced to punt with three minutes left and never got the ball again. EAC travels to Scottsdale on Saturday to battle with the Artichokes in its next Western State Football League action.

Andy Hansen

Sports Editor Eastern Arizona Courier