It turned out to be a joyous night for the New Mexico Stars and their fans in the Santa Ana Star Center on Saturday.
And no one could have been happier than Stars place-kicker Zeke Arevalo, whose 33-yard field goal as time expired gave New Mexico a 61-58 Lone Star Football League victory over the Abilene Bombers in front of an estimated 2,200.
In a flash, coach Chris Williams leaped into Arevalo's arms in what became a massive dogpile in the end zone, celebrating a victory that gave New Mexico (5-5) a solid grip on the third seed in the Lone Star Football League standings. Abilene fell to 5-6 and lost the season series to the Stars 2-1, which is the first tiebreaker.
"Head down, follow through. That was it," is how Arevalo described his thoughts in the final frantic seconds. "Last week it got blocked. This week I tried not to think about it."
In that game last week, Arevalo attempted a field goal with about 20 seconds to play to force overtime against Amarillo, but the ball was smothered by a rushing lineman.
"I was so happy for coach Williams," Arevalo said of Saturday's win. "I've been with him for such a long time, and I was happy for him to get this win."
Another of the Stars' heroes was Kasey Peters, who had seven TD passes with no interceptions. Scoring three times apiece were Josh Floyd and Dexter Manley.
"There's no panic at all for our team," Peters said. "As an offense, our mindset switched from watching the defense win the game to how are we going to win the game."
The panic reference was in regard to Abilene's 44-yard scoring pass from backup QB Byron Ingram to Le'Juan Edward with 15 seconds to go. A 2-point run tied the score at 58.
The evening did have a dark side, though, when the Laredo Rattlesnakes (7-4) beat the Bandits (1-9) in San Angelo 58-42 to clinch at least the second seed. That means the Stars cannot host a first-round postseason game. But if they win either of their final two games — at Amarillo next weekend or at home against San Angelo on July 1 — they will have the third seed and play at the No. 2 seed in the first round. Amarillo is in first at 8-2.
Early on Saturday, the Bombers came out flying behind Andre Coles, who did not play in the teams' previous meeting in the Star Center, a 63-41 Stars win on May 11.
Coles threw TD passes on the Bombers' first three series and had four total in the first half, but his offense then bogged down with two straight turnovers.
It was the second of the giveaways that turned momentum in New Mexico's favor in the second period.
With Abilene holding a 28-21 lead with 4 minutes left in the quarter, Coles threw an out pattern to the right side, but making an aggressive move to the ball was the Stars' Jay Allen, signed on Friday. He caught the ball at the goal line and burst 50 yards to the tying score.
New Mexico then took a 35-28 lead with 21 seconds left in the half on an 8-yard scoring catch by Floyd.
Saturday: New Mexico at Amarillo, 6:05 p.m.