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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Eagles fumble their way to 27-20 loss to Clint

Pecos Eagles’ head coach Chris Henson had only seen on film the problems on offense former Pecos Eagles’ head coach Patrick Willis had suffered through the previous two seasons.

Friday night, he got to see them in person, and Henson said he plans not to see them again the rest of the season.

Pecos’ playoff hopes took a hit, but not a fatal one, Friday night at Eagle Stadium, as the Eagles fumbled seven times and had four turnovers overall against the Clint Lions. Five of the fumbles and three of the turnovers came in the first half, and helped the Lions overcome a couple of mistakes on their own to race out to a 21-0 lead over Pecos.

The Eagles did straighten things out in the third quarter and would score two touchdowns to cut Clint’s lead to seven. But quarterback Jaime Pena was able to get free for a 30-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, which allowed Clint to survive a late Pecos score and beat the Eagles, by a 27-20 margin.

Pecos won only two games during the previous two seasons, due in large part to fumbling 80 times in that span, about half of those in exchanges between the center and quarterback. This season, the Eagles still have some fumble problems, with 15 in their first six games, but they had only turned the ball over on fumbles twice before Friday night.

“We chewed them out before the game for cutting up in the locker room and told them to get serious, but it just carried over,” said Henson, who saw his team stop Clint’s initial drive on a 4th-and-1 fumble by Pena at the 25-yard-line that Robert Nunez recovered, only to have the offense fumble the first two times they touched the ball.

Quarterback Paul Zubeldia fumbled the first snap, and then he and Hector Garcia missed on a handoff attempt, with the Lions’ Danny Soto recovering at the 25.

“On that first turnover with Hector, he hit his thigh pad with the ball,” Henson said, adding that said the exchange problems have just reappeared in recent weeks. “We’ve been working on it a lot the last two weeks, getting them in the weight room. It’s something I’m worrying over, and something we’ve got to get fixed. Ruben (Salgado) has got a cast on his hand, and I don’t know if that’s it, but fundamental mistakes like that can’t happen.”

But three plays after that, on a 3rd-and-7, Drake Bradley stepped in front of a Pena pass for Justin Powell and intercepted it at the 18, and returned it 17 yards to the 35.

“It was the same thing as two weeks ago (in Monahans), we got two early turnovers and couldn’t capitalize on it,” said Henson, whose team has not allowed a point in the first quarter of their three district games, but has been outscored 59-6 in the second period.

Clint had penalty problems on Friday, getting flagged 11 times for 100 yards. That included a roughing the passer call on the next series, after a 23-yard pass from Zubeldia to Nunez that set Pecos up at the Lions’ 24. That play came after another fumbled snap, and Zubeldia’s first half problems would continue four plays later, when he fell down while trying to roll out to pass on a 4th-and-6 play from the 20, giving the ball back to the Lions.

This time, Clint would take the ball all the way to score the first of their three second period touchdowns. Pena would have a 24 yard run and Bradley was flagged for interference on Powell to start the series, and Victor Villalobos would add a 10-yard run to set up Tony Rivera’s one-yard dive on fourth down to put Clint ahead.

Aside from the fumble problems, the Eagles also had problems fielding Anthony Aguilar’s kickoffs all night. They started their next drive at the 13, failed to move, and Powell returned Kenny Rayos’ 34-yard punt 21 yards to the Pecos 30. On the next play, Pena faked a handoff, dropped back and hit a wide-open Aguilar for a 30-yard score.

“We fell asleep. We dropped into Cover 3 (zone) and our free safety stayed in man and sucked up and the tight end ran right by him,” Henson said. “We made a couple of mistakes like that two weeks ago, and only did it once tonight, but it hurt.”

Things would get worse for the Eagles over the final 5 1/2 minutes of the period, even though the Eagles finally did get their offense going on their next possession.

Luis Ortega would have a pair of first down runs, and then after another fumbled snap left Pecos with a 3rd-and-9, Zubeldia would float a pass over the head of the Clint cornerback to Jeremy Martinez, who took it down to the Clint 18. But after a seven yard run by Ortega, Pecos was hit with a motion call and Zubeldia’s next pass to Martinez at the goal line was high and was deflected by Clint, with Rivera catching it in the back of the end zone for an interception. On the next play, the Lions ran a reverse to Powell, who was able to put a fake on Aaron Urias at the 20 and had a clear path the final 80 yards to the end zone.

“They rotated their linebacker outside, and we didn’t pick him up,” Henson said. “He got pressure on the stunt and forced Paul to hurry his throw. Jeremy was wide-open, but he threw it high.”

Down 21-0 with 1:17 to play, the Eagles’ first half agony wasn’t over yet, though the rest of the night was a lot better for Zubeldia. The sophomore hit Martinez for five yards, and then after an 8-yard run by Ortega, hit sideline routes to Xavier Tersero and Nunez before going deep to Martinez, who took it 46 yards to the Clint 7-yard-line with 20 seconds left in the half. Pecos had one time-out left, but on the next play Rivera came up with another turnover, this time recovering a fumble by Ortega at the five to kill another Eagle scoring threat.

Pecos would get another try to start the second half, and this time, they were able to take it 79 yards to the end zone. A personal foul call on Clint for a hit out-of-bounds on a scramble by Zubeldia got the Eagles near midfield, and Ortega would then get runs of 24, 11 and 14 yards on consecutive carries to set up a 1-yard dive into the end zone. Clint would take the ensuing kickoff and drive into Pecos territory, but saw the drive stall at the 30 when Pena overthrew Powell on a 4th-and-12 slant pass.

The Eagles went right back to Ortega, who would go for eight yards on a 3rd-and-2, then gain 23 yards after an 11-yard gain by Ramirez. A facemask call brought the ball down to the 14, and Ortega would cover those yards on three more runs, going over from four yards out with 1:28 left in the period.

Timo Reyes’ kick made it 21-14, but Clint would come right back with a 10-yard run by Rivera to close out the third period, and two more first downs to start the fourth quarter. Rivera would then have a nine-yard run down to the 21 wiped out by a holding call, but Solis would pick up seven yards after bobbling the snap on the next play, and then got around left end and outran the Eagles’ secondary to the end zone with 6:28 left in the game.

“We told them not to try and make the big hit, make sure and wrap up,” Henson said. “You’ve got to give credit to Clint, their running backs are strong runners, and they broke some tackles on Monahans the week before.”

Down by 13 after Aguilar missed his extra point try, the Eagles gave the ball back to Clint again on their next play, as Ortega was stripped on a carry outside, with Villalobos recovering at the 25. Rivera would run for 10 yards two plays later, but on the next play he would fumble, with Albert Lopez recovering and returning the ball to the 25 with 5 1/2 minutes left.

“We made some good adjustments in the second half, but then we had another fumble that hurt us,” Henson said, as the Eagles were able to move the ball 75 yards for a score, but had just 2:08 left on the clock.

Ortega would have three more runs and finished with 186 of Pecos’ 187 yards rushing on the night, but the big plays were a 23 yard gain by Martinez, on a drop off pass from Zubeldia, and a 21-yard touchdown pass from the quarterback on a crossing pass to Tersero, who was able to pull in the ball surrounded by three Clint defenders and take it into the end zone.

Reyes missed the extra point try, and then Rivera recovered Ruben Salgado’s onsides kick. Pecos still had two times-outs left, but once more, Pena got around the right end, this time for eight yards to put him over the 100-yard mark for the night. Manny Rodriguez would then get the first down on a two-yard run, and the Lions were then able to run out the clock.

The Lions improved their record to 7-1 on the season and 3-1 in district, while the Eagles fell to 3-4 and 1-2. Pecos’ playoff hopes rest on winning their final three games - at Fabens this Friday and in Tornillo on Nov. 10 around a Nov. 3 home game against Fort Stockton - while needing a loss by the Panthers this Friday at home against Monahans.

Fort Stockton stayed tied for first in District 1-3A by edging Anthony, 21-15, while Monahans joined the Panthers at 3-0 with a 63-0 win over Fabens. The Wildcats saw their record fall to 1-3 in district and 2-6 on the season going into their final home game on Friday against the Eagles.

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