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Tuesday, September 7, 1999

Bears' prayers answered with miracle win

Staff Writer
GRADY, Sept. 7, 1999 -- You may not be able to pray at the start of a high school football game anymore, but you can still throw "Hail Mary" passes at the finish.

Isaiah Rodriguez tossed it up, Ryan Clark hauled it in, and the Whitharral Panthers probably wish the federal appeals court panel had outlawed that instead of the pre-game invocation, as the Balmorhea Bears' prayers were answered with a miracle 35-34 victory over Whitharral Saturday evening in Grady.

It still took a dump pass from Rodriguez to Adrial Ramon on the extra point try to give Balmorhea its margin of victory, but that play went as planned. On the tying touchdown just about everything that could go wrong for the Bears did, up until the point Rodriguez sidestepped an onrushing Will Kristinek at the Whitharral 25 yard line and launched his pass, which a leaping Clark hauled down just inside the back line of the end zone.

The Bears had gotten a first down at the Panthers' 19 with 1:15 to play when Josue Mendoza and Billy Lozano were stopped after a couple of short gains, leaving Balmorhea with a third down at the 16 with 30 seconds left. Given a chance to get off two last plays, though, the Bears barely got off one. They didn't break the huddle until there were 10 seconds left, then held in the set position while the clock ticked towards zero and head coach Ennis Erickson and assistant coach Adolfo Garcia yelled "Run the play!"

The horn sounded as the deep snap was in the air towards Rodriguez, but it would land on the ground, with Rodriguez recovering just in time to avoid Kristinek, who had sacked Jerry Mendoza on a fourth down play midway through the final period to kill an earlier Balmorhea drive.

"We won a game we shouldn't have with the way we played," said a very hoarse Erickson following the win, in the six-man football opener for both teams. "We had too many fumbles, too many missed tackles and not taking care of the ball. It was just one of those things where we did it when we had to."

"I know they're upset, because they thought the clock had run out. It got pretty dang close, but we got it in," he said, adding, "I thought a couple of times they didn't stop the clock when they should have, so it all balanced out."

All those mistakes helped sixth-ranked Whitharral go out to a 34-14 lead in the third period, as the fourth-ranked Bears had all kinds of problems handling Panthers' back Steven Lopez. The junior had three touchdowns, including a 50-yard run just before halftime that gave his team a 27-14 lead.

The Panthers were still up by 20 when Clark snagged a Jerry Mendoza pass and managed to make it into the end zone on a 4th-and-7 play with no time remaining in the third quarter. But that was just a warm-up for what would come at the finish.

The Bears helped themselves in the fourth period, finally getting containment on Lopez and forcing the Panthers into their only two punts of the game. But they also had some help from Whitharral, which put the ball in the air while up 34-28 with under three minutes to play and with the Bears down to their last time-out.

Kristinek's first pass was incomplete, and after Lopez picked up seven of the 15 yards needed for a game-clinching first down, Kristinek went back to the air and saw his pass to Jaime Chavez picked off by Clark at the Bears' 31, and returned to the Panthers' 36 with 2:05 to play.

That was the last in a series of turnovers in the game, most of which occurred over a 4 ½ minute span of the opening period, after the Bears took the opening drive and marched 52 yards on six plays for the first score of the game.

Billy Lozano got the touchdown on a three-yard run, and Balmorhea then stopped Whitharral on downs when Jared Dockery fumbled a snap on a 4th-and-3 play. But three plays later Roman lost the ball on a fumble, two plays after that Josue Mendoza picked off a Tris Cisneros pass and then on consecutive plays Chris Cook and Lopez fumbled the ball away, leaving the Bears with the ball at their own 30.

Four plays after that, however, the ball was in Balmorhea's end zone, as J.R. Reyna picked off a Jerry Mendoza pass and raced 49 yards for the tying TD. Cisneros' extra point made it 8-6, and on the Bears' first play after the kickoff Cook fumbled again, with Lopez returning it to the Bears' 37. Brandon Hoskins gained 20 yards as the first period ended, and two plays into the second period Lopez got his first touchdown on a six yard run.

Whitharral missed the extra point, and the Bears tied the game on their next possession, surviving a fumble by Roman at the Panthers' 12 yard line to score on the next play, a 15-yard run by Cook. But Balmorhea fell behind again three minutes later, on an 18-yard TD pass from Kristinek to Lopez, after Lopez found Greg Cirilo on a 36-yard pass play on 3rd-and-11 from the Whitharral 33.

Balmorhea went to the spread offense on their next series, but couldn't get their passing game going. The Bears turned the ball over on downs at the Panthers' 30 and Lopez then spun out of four tackles on the next play on the way to his 50-yard score.

Up by 13, Whitharral used up nearly 7 ½ minutes on the clock to start the third period on a 59-yard march to what turned out to be their final touchdown of the evening. Hoskins was the main runner on the series, but Lopez had a big 15-yard gain after a holding call against the Panthers, and Kristinek found Cirilo for the score on a 4th-and-goal pass from the 1-yard line.

Clark's TD catches were the only two receptions of the game for Balmorhea, and the first came after a penalty almost cost the Bears a touchdown. Lozano broke off a 26-yard run on a 4th-and-1 play before being tackled by Dockery at the Whitharral 6, but the Bears then lost 15 yards of that run when Lozano was flagged for unsportmanlike conduct when he flipped the ball towards the referee and hit Dockery in the head.

That left the Bears with a 1st-and-goal at the 21, and three runs by Lozano and Josue Mendoza got only 12 of that before Jerry Mendoza rolled left and hit Clark with a pass at the 4-yard-line, and he then evaded defensive back Jaime Chavez and found the end zone at the third period ended.

Lopez, who gained 100 yards in the first three periods, was held to just seven in the fourth quarter, while Josue Mendoza finally found an opening outside in the final period, taking a pitch and racing 63 yards down the sideline for a touchdown with 3:18 to play that gave the Bears a chance at victory. Mendoza ended up leading all rushers with 158 yards on the day.

“We couldn’t get that pitch going because they were out there on him, and they were clogging up the middle enough so he couldn’t run in there,” Erickson said of the Bears’ ground attack.

Defensively he said Balmorhea’s defenders “Weren’t in control and he (Lopez) was just spinning away. We finally started playing under control and stopped that, and then went from there.”

Eagles try to recover from rough weekend

PECOS, Sept. 7, 1999 -- Pecos Eagles' coach Becky Granado had little to be happy about after this past weekend's Seminole Invitational, but hopes her team can do better tonight in Crane, when they face the Crane Golden Cranes and Wink Wildcats in a pair of matches.

Pecos will face Wink at about 5:45 p.m. and the host Cranes around 7 p.m., as the Eagles try to get back on track after suffering through a winless weekend in Seminole.

The Eagles were swept by San Angelo Lake View, Lubbock Coronado and Odessa High in their pool round matches on Friday. Each of those teams went on to win trophies _ Coronado won the tournament title, Lake View took fifth after losing to tournament runner-up Hereford and Odessa High beat Andrews for consolation. But the Eagles had had already won two matches this season from Odessa High, their 15-12, 15-13 loss to the Bronchos to close out Friday's play capped off a lost day.

"We just made a lot of mental mistakes Friday. We couldn't get anything going," Granado said. Pecos earlier had lost to Lake View, 15-8, 15-7, and Coronado, 15-6, 15-6. "All Coronado had to do was serve it to us. We were intimidated by their big hitter, but she really didn't have to do anything, because we couldn't get it back over."

Pecos played only one match on Saturday, losing to Odessa Permian, 15-8, 16-14. "We played good the last 10-13 points, but we did not play good at all Saturday," Granado said. "We didn't have any offense at all."

"If there was any bright spot it was the way D'Andra (Ortega) played. She had some blocks at the net and was much more aggressive than she has been," Granado added.

Sun Devils shut down Red Raiders, 31-13

TEMPE, Ariz., Sept. 6, 1999 (AP) — Arizona State played all the way to the end this time.

The No. 25 Sun Devils, who had an even higher preseason ranking last year, but slumped to a 5-6 record after losing their opener to Washington in the final seconds, never let up in a 31-13 win over Texas Tech on Monday night.

"I'm really proud of this group," coach Bruce Snyder said. "There has been a lot of pressure on them from last season, and I think we can kind of put that to rest now."

J.R. Redmond ran for 157 yards — third highest of his career — and two touchdowns, outplaying Ricky Williams of the Red Raiders in a comparison test between two of the best tailbacks in the nation.

Williams had a career-low 33 yards in 13 carries and was not a factor after scoring on a 1-yard run 3:18 into the game. He hurt his left knee in the second quarter and left the game in the third.

It was symbolic of the way the Red Raiders played — a good start and then a lull. Arizona State scored 31 consecutive points after Williams' TD.

"We lost our poise," Texas Tech coach Spike Dykes said. "We went into the tank, and ASU had a lot to do with that. J.R. is a heck of a player. He's hard to tackle. We hit him and hit him, and he didn't go down."

Redmond, who played decoy to spring Delvon Flowers on a 40-yard scoring reverse, outgained Williams on one scoring run — a 56-yard burst that tied the game 23 seconds into the second quarter.

"My dad always told me that the shortest way to the end zone is straight ahead," he said.

Dykes said Williams' injury is more frightening because of his courage.

"When he doesn't get up and get back to the huddle, it's usually pretty serious," Dykes said.

The Sun Devils played three quarters without quarterback Ryan Kealy, who sprained his right knee late in the first.

They compensated with sophomore John Leonard, who was 7-of-17 for 117 yards; big defensive plays, including five sacks; and Redmond, who also had a 3-yard scoring run.

"I think we have kind of a blue-collar attitude this year," said Kealy, expected to return to action Sept. 18 against New Mexico State. "Last year, we went out expecting to win; this year, we know how hard you've got to work to win."

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