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Broncs make playoffs with homecoming barn-burner vs Bucs

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NMMI sophomore running back Fred Jackson (1) gets by a Blinn defender after a pass reception in the third quarter during Saturday’s game at the Wool Bowl. (Shutternut Photo)

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As if homecoming wasn’t exciting enough, the New Mexico Military Institute Bronco football team (5-4, 3-4) won a classic at the Wool Bowl, downing Blinn College (4-5, 2-5) with a touchdown in the final 20 seconds of play, 45-42.

The Broncos had momentum early, scoring the only two touchdowns in the first quarter. The first was a 1-yard rush by Patrick Charles with 5:57 left on the clock, capping a 9-play, 80-yard drive. The other was a Zareq Brown pass to Charles from four yards out, finishing up an 8-play, 49-yard possession, giving NMMI a 14-0 lead with 38 ticks left in the initial period.

Blinn scored their first touchdown after a fumbled punt return gave back ball possession to the Buccaneers on the NMMI 21-yard line. Blinn needed just one play to score, QB Brock Landis completing a TD pass to WR Eric Peterson with 12:19 left in the second quarter.

NMMI’s next points came as the result of a Buccaneer turnover. DB Dalton Bowles forced a fumble, then got the recovery as well, giving the Institute offense the ball on the Blinn 38. Two plays later, Brown hit WR Diego Miranda for a 35-yard pass-and-catch into pay dirt – NMMI with the lead, 21-7, with 11:01 remaining in the first half.

But the next three scores were all by the Bucs. They managed one final touchdown before the end of the half on an 8-play, 67 drive, making it 21-14 going into the locker rooms. They scored two more TDs in the third – at the 12:19 and 7:09 marks, before the Broncos were able to counter.

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Down 28-21, the NMMI offense compiled an impressive eight-play, 84 yards drive. RB Fred Jackson put the ball past the goal line on a 22-yard rush, tying the game 28-28 with 4:43 left in the third quarter.

Blinn managed to find the end zone once more before the third quarter expired, 65 yards on six plays to again give them a seven-point lead, 35-28, with 2:05 left.

At the start of the fourth quarter, however, NMMI scored twice to regain the lead. Charles collected his third touchdown of the game with 13:13 left in regulation to once again knot the score, 35-35, after another long NMMI drive, this time 85 yards over 10 plays. Then after DB James Blowers blocked a Blinn punt, and the ensuing Bronco drive stalled out on Buc 23 yard line, Roland Tyson put the Broncos back on top, 38-35, with a 40-yard field goal and 7:07 left in play.

Both teams were forced to punt on their next possessions, taking another three minutes and change off the clock.

Blinn got the ball back on their 17-yard line with 3:50 remaining. After a Buc pass attempt bounced in and out of the hands of NMMI linebacker Jaren Banks, the Bucs completed a 60-yard TD pass which Banks again got a piece of, but it deflected right into the hands on WR Danny Grey.

Down 42-38, the Bronco offense again went to work with 1:30 left and all three timeouts remaining. After three completions by back-up QB Ephriam Tuliiloa, including a 51-yard toss to WR Reynald Fleurival, NMMI was on the Blinn 5, first and 10, still with 44 seconds left. After a scramble and yard loss, Tuliiloa then hit his wide-open tight end, Zack Fryer, for the 6-yard score. After the PAT kick by Tyson, NMMI held a 45-42 lead with just 20 seconds left in the game.

NMMI’s special teams unit pinned Blinn down at their own 3-yard line on the kickoff. In two pass plays, the Bucs moved the ball up to the NMMI 44, then called their last time out with only one remaining on the game clock. A final Hail Mary attempt was broken up by DB King Ambers in the end zone for the NMMI victory.

Fred Jackson led the Broncos in rushing yards. He collected 79 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries on the receiving side, Jackson and Fleurival tied with 97 yards each and seven and five catches, respectively.

NMMI QBs Zareq Brown and Ephriam Tuliiloa combined for almost 300 yards passing and three TDs. Brown with two TDs and 138 yards on 14 attempts and nine completions; and Tuliiloa one TD and 153 yards on a 12-for-19 effort.

Head NMMI coach Joe Forchtner was definitely pleased with his team’s improved offensive production the past few weeks.

“The offense is getting better,” said head Bronco football coach Joe Forchtner. “We had a season-high (for total offensive yards) tonight. We went through as rough a stretch as you can go through on offense. But they kept working on it and learning what we can do to win. The offensive coaching staff has done a great job, found our strengths and utilized them.”

“There were a lot of big plays,” said head NMMI coach Forchtner about the barn-burner vs. Blinn. “There were a lot of opportunities for us to fold it up, too. We let them off the hook early, gave them some hope after a few misplays. And in the second half, when things weren’t going our way, we could have given up. But the guys never did – not at all.”

The Institute win, along with the other match-ups this weekend, forced a five-team tie for third place in the Southwestern Junior College Football Conference, and, after the multi-team tie-breaker, NMMI earned the No. 4 seed to earn their first post-season conference playoff birth since they began play in the SWJCFC during the 2016 season. Instead of the game originally scheduled next week at home vs. Resolution Prep, the Broncos will now travel to top-seeded Kilgore College for the first-round of the conference championships. Kickoff for that game is expected to be at 2 p.m. CDT on Saturday, Nov. 2.