NMMI QB Conner Cramer breaks free for a big gain on a scramble in the first quarter, before being dragged down by Eastern Arizona’s Cliff Moulton. (NMMI Photo)
After a week off, the Bronco football team came back to action with a passion Saturday, beating No. 19-ranked Eastern Arizona 39-27 to lock up a berth in the top tier of the WSFL playoffs next week.
“That was a big one,” said head coach Joe Forchtner. “Especially coming off the Snow game, and having a bye week; we had a lot invested in that game. There was a lot of time and there was a lot on the line. So it’s definitely the grind house tonight.”
It may have been a grind, but the Broncos never trailed in the game, and the closest the Gila Monsters ever got was within five points, late in the game.
Conner Cramer scored the first TD of the afternoon with 12:44 on the clock, carrying the ball in for the score. Because kicker Nicholas Litang was injured, Forchtner opted to go for two, rather than kicking, and the try was no good, putting NMMI up 6-0.
Darryl Wiggins carried in the second TD with 3:23 left in the first quarter, and after another failed two-point PAT attempt, the Broncos led 12-0 through the end of the stanza.
Playing in front of large crowd of alumni, the Broncos made it 20-0 just a minute and a half into the second quarter, on an 83-yard pass from Cramer to Troy Gatling, and this time, the 2-point conversion was good on a pass from Cramer to Caleb Estrada.
Eastern scored its first points with 7:33 remaining in the half, cutting the NMMI lead to 20-7, then the Broncos added another score — this one on a halfback pass from Gatling to Sedarius Young — and the Gila Monsters closed out the stanza with a 5-yard run, making it 26-14 heading into the locker room.
Forchtner said the Broncos had a good game plan to shut down the hard-running Monsters, but changes were needed when they started scoring.
“Their offensive coordinator, Bob O’Meara, is one of the sharpest guys in the game, and he scoped us out pretty good, probably mid-second quarter and made some adjustments,” the coach said. “It was tough and we had to kind of readjust back. And our guys did a good job of adjusting on the fly. I think that was a big difference in the game.”
Eastern pulled to within six points late in the third quarter, 26-20, but the Broncos came back with just seconds remaining in the stanza, stretching the lead to 32-20 on a pass from Cramer to Young.
Both sides scored a touchdown in the fourth, with Eastern biting first then NMMI closing out the game with a 16-yard carry by Wiggins with 17 seconds remaining on the clock.
Forchtner laughed when asked what the offensive game plan was.
“Score lots,” he said, explaining they thought that maybe the slow-tempo running game the Gila Monsters play would be susceptible to fatigue.
“The clock’s running all the time with them, so we didn’t know how conditioned their defense would be to play a lot of plays,” he said.“Their D-line is as athletic as they get, especially at defensive end. I thought we did a pretty good job of protecting.”
According to Forchtner, the victory means another trip to Utah Oct. 31, where they’ll get a rematch with the No. 1 team in the WSFL, Snow College. The other three teams in the top bracket all beat the Broncos earlier this season, and the coach said his players are looking to avenge those losses.
“That’s what it’s going to be all about, is getting some redemption, just like we’ve said since last spring.”