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Garfield Turns Back Roosevelt With Late Interception in East L.A. Classic

Fresh off a grueling victory over Roosevelt, Garfield High School can win a share of the Eastern League football title with a victory at Huntington Park Friday night.

The Bulldogs have won four straight games to improve to 4-5 overall and 4-1 in league. A win against Huntington Park and they will share the title with Roosevelt (8-2, 5-1) and most likely South East (8-1, 4-1) as well. Roosevelt has completed regular season play and will be seeded in the Division I playoffs Saturday. South East plays Bell (6-3, 3-2) Friday needing a win to stay in the title picture.

Garfield High School linebacker Eleazar Rivera returns an interception 56 yards in the second quarter. His return led to the only score as Garfield defeated Roosevelt in the East L.A. Classic. (EGP Photo by Mario Villegas)

Garfield High School defeated Roosevelt in the East L.A. Classic. (EGP Photo by Mario Villegas)

Garfield ruined Roosevelt’s bid to win the title outright by hanging on to beat Roosevelt, 7-0, last Friday in the 78th East Los Angeles Classic before an estimated crowd of 19,000 at East L.A. College.

Like he was most of the night, Garfield’s Juan Carlos Munoz was in the right place at the right time late in the game. His interception in the end zone ended Roosevelt’s drive to the Garfield six-yard line and ensured the victory for the Bulldogs, their seventh in their last nine meetings with the Rough Riders.

Munoz picked off a pass by Roosevelt’s Jaime Arriaga that was intended for Kenny Orellana in the end zone and returned it 40 yards with 31 seconds remaining.

“The game came down to one play, and what a great situation to be in for a game like this one,” Roosevelt Coach Javier Cid said. “We had an opportunity to possibly win the game, and they had an opportunity to stop us. Give credit to Garfield, they stopped us.”

Munoz said he had a feeling about where the pass was going.

“They threw to the same receiver the play before, so I was kind of expecting it,” explained the 5-foot-10, 150-pound senior. “I didn’t jump it, because at the same time, I didn’t want to get beat. So I waited and went and got it. We got good pressure on the quarterback, which caused him to get it off early and under throw it.”

Said Cid: “It was more about Munoz making a big play (rather than us not executing).”

Munoz, who also plays wide receiver, had a memorable night on offense, too. He caught five passes for 119 yards, including a 17-yard reception that set up the only touchdown of the game.

“He stepped up and did a phenomenal job,” Garfield Coach Lorenzo Hernandez said. “He plays both sides of the ball well for us.”

The play marked the end of a night of missed opportunities for Roosevelt and pivotal plays that went against the Rough Riders. The crowd held its breath expecting to see a long pass go for a touchdown in the first quarter only for the ball to be dropped. There was also a wide-open receiver who got behind the defense couldn’t get to an overthrown pass.

A tipped pass by Arriaga ended up in the hands of Garfield’s Eleazar Rivera who snatched it for an interception and returned it 56 yards to the Roosevelt 22-yard line. Garfield converted the turnover into points a few plays later.

Munoz’ 17-yard reception from Joshua Mendoza set up Lance Fernandez scoring on a nine-yard run with 4:24 left in the first half.

Both sides expected the game to be a battle of defenses.

“I thought it would be a defensive struggle since both teams play great defense,” Hernandez said. “Somebody had to win, and somebody had to lose.”

Defensive end Raymond Sierra also had a big night for Garfield, with three tackles for losses.

Arriaga accounted for most of Roosevelt’s offense. The junior was 15 of 28 passing for 147 yards and was his team’s leading rusher with 59 yards on 11 carries. Gilbert Herrera added 44 yards rushing on 12 attempts.

The Rough Riders defensively were led by linebacker Chris Campos and end Jonathan Godoy.

Garfield’s Fernandez went into the game having rushed for 152 yards and 173 yards in the previous two games with Roosevelt. His rushing total was modest compared to those numbers as he rushed for 83 yards on 21 carries to lead Garfield. Larry Ravelo had 42 yards on 11 attempts. Mendoza completed nine of 16 passes for 148 yards.

Roosevelt leads the all-time series, 39-33-6.