On the road for the second week in a row, the Eastern Arizona College Gila Monsters football team looked to shake off last week’s dirty game at Scottsdale and visited Mesa Community College.
The Thunderbirds, who play at their old but classic John D. Riggs Stadium in the heart of Mesa, were hospitable hosts and even invited the Gila Monsters marching band to play at halftime. Before the game, Wayne Block, sports information director, said having the band come up would really give the game a great atmosphere. He said he looked into starting a program at Mesa Community but has not been successful yet.
The Thunderbirds came out hot with freshman lefty quarterback Blake Kemp behind a Goliath-sized offensive line. Two starters were in the 400-pound plus range. There was a third, who rotated in, who also was 400 pounds plus and 6’8.”
With 9:34 showing on the clock in the first quarter, Kemp scampered into the end zone from three yards out to put up the first score of the night. The extra point kick was good to make the score 7-0 in favor of the Thunderbirds.
“The whole defense really played well. We put them in tough situation after tough situation. You take away our two offside penalties where they got free plays and actually scored on us, they really didn’t score on the defense. I couldn’t be happier with the defense,” Gila Monsters coach John O’Mera said.
“They answered the bell over and over again and actually scored and did some things to get us back in the game. It was our defense against their offense and defense,” coach O’Mera said.
Deron Thompson again had some troubles during the center to quarterback exchange. It did not help in which he was taking hard shots all night. There was a play that he became a Spam sandwich between a couple of Mesa defenders.
“They had a good scheme against us and were real aggressive and brought everybody up on the line of scrimmage,” coach O’Mera said, “We didn’t do a good job as coaches getting adjusted to our players. This week, we’re going to work on that and come out and see if we can do a little bit better.”
On the other hand, again, there were a couple of good runs in the first quarter by Jamal Sactchell, who got around the end and almost broke one for a score.
“This week, we’ll be challenged by one of the top offenses in the country and the top defense, too,” warned coach O’Mera about Saturday’s home game against Arizona Western with an early start time of 6 p.m.
With 1:37 to go in the first half, Mesa’s Kemp hit wide receiver Brandon Trotter for 35 yards and the Thunderbirds’ second touchdown of the night. The Gila Monsters special teams almost picked up the blocked extra point and ran it back for a score, but the defensive player was caught on the 50-yard line and tackled.
The Gila Monsters football team walked off the field at halftime followed by a running Mesa squad that was being chased off the field by the Gila Monsters marching band. They played great, danced wonderfully and appeared to win over most of the Mesa fans, who graciously stood and gave them a standing ovation and cheered. It was a Gila Monsters pride moment.
The third quarter for the Gila Monsters offense started out rough as the Thunder-birds’ defensive line jail broke and sacked quarterback Thompson for 10 yards. “Thompson again took some major hits. You got to give him a chance to get his senses back a little,” coach O’Mera said. So the Gila Monsters sent in, quarterback Brice Queener from Colorado Springs Colo.
“The trouble is, we have a couple of quarterbacks, and it’s tough in a tight ball game to let other people (on the field) and let them show you what they can do,” coach O’Mera said.
“Thompson got the nod (starting QB), and he hasn’t done anything to really deserve to be yanked, so when he got rapped there pretty hard, we thought, here was a chance to give Queener a little bit of time. Queener did well. The (Detavis) Buggs kid is our other quarterback, and we got him in the last series, which wasn’t really fair to him to get a chance,” coach O’Mera said as he laid out his paradigm of which player to give valuable game experience to.
With 3:29 to go in the third quarter, just when the Gila Monsters started to move the offense up the field, Queener was intercepted, and the ball returned for a touchdown and extra point to make it 27-0 in favor of the Thunderbirds.
On the ensuing kickoff return, Gila Monsters special teams lightning rod struck again. Kickoff and punt return specialist Collin Fanning broke a 90-yard run down the Gila Monsters sideline and electrified the whole team, fans in the stands and the Gila Monsters marching band.
The Gila Monsters were back in the game, and they would continue with inspired defensive play with the score 27-7 still favoring the Thunderbirds.
With 2:16 on the clock in the third quarter, Claudeson Pelon made a defensive fumble recovery for the Gila Monsters. The offense sparked a little, then dimmed again.
It was time for some more Gila Monster defensive heroics. This time, putting on his cape with a D emblazoned on it, defensive back Rhett Nebeker from Golden, Colo., picked up a Mesa receiver’s fumble and flew down the field 50 yards for the Gila Monsters touchdown. It was followed by a good extra point and made the score 27-14, still favoring the fading Thunderbirds. The Gila Monsters sideline players and fans erupted with exhilarated joy with 9:27 on the clock left in the game.
Still wearing the cape, Nebeker had one more feat to accomplish. With 6:58 on clock the punter for Mesa bobbled the high snap and tried to kick it off the ground out of bounds from the middle of the field but Nebeker swooped in and grabbed it up and ran it in for his second touchdown in under three minutes. The players and fans for Eastern Arizona exploded with cheers and happy screams. With the extra point kick, the Gila Monsters closed the scoring gap to 27-21, taking the Thunderbirds lead down to sixpoints.
But the villain, fumble man, showed his face again in the Gila Monsters back field. Queener got hit from behind on the Thunderbirds 15-yard line and fumbled the ball. The Mesa defense scooped it up and ran it into the end zone to finish off the game scoring with 1:28 left on the clock after the good extra point. Final score, Eastern Arizona College 21, Mesa Community College 34.
“We’re just going to have grow from it, go back to the drawing board and try to get better. It’s all you can do,” coach O’Mera said.
After the game, Mesa Athletic Director John Mulhern, after being complimented on a good, clean game was surprised and said, “I am pleased to hear that.” He went on to explain the bad experience his team had against Scottsdale in a loss. He explained about the excessive penalties and hoped that the league would get cleaned up from dirty play. He agreed that sportsmanship should be a priority for safety sake. He said, “These are young 19-year-old kids and it would be ashamed if even one gets hurt,” because of dirty play and bad sports.
“We did at least make a step in the right direction on trying to clean up the game a little bit,” said coach O’Mera for Eastern Arizona before being told about Mulherns comments.