Garfield's Nicky Peralta, left, puts his head down as he collides… (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles…)
Rivalry games are all about pride and Friday night's 78th East L.A. Classic was no exception.
Juan Carlos Munoz intercepted a pass in the end zone and returned it 40 yards with 31 seconds left to preserve Garfield's 7-0 victory and bragging rights over Roosevelt at East Los Angeles College.
Roosevelt took over at its own 40 with 4:38 left and drove to the Bulldogs' 6-yard line before Munoz, a safety, made his game-saving play.
"I saw the receiver cutting in, I went with him, I caught it and ran," said Munoz, who has never lost to Roosevelt, winning twice on JV and twice on varsity. "The offense struggled at times but the defense came through. This is like a playoff game to us."
If the Bulldogs (4-5, 4-1) beat Huntington Park in their season finale next week they will claim a piece of the Eastern League title. Roosevelt has played one more game and lost its chance to clinch the crown outright.
Lance Fernandez took a handoff nine yards up the middle for a touchdown to put Garfield ahead 7-0 lead with 4:24 left in the second quarter and the Bulldogs made the lead stick with punishing hits and time-consuming drives.
Defensive back Eleazar Rivera set up the score with a 52-yard interception return to the Roosevelt 22-yard line after a pass was tipped.
Fernandez, a senior who missed the Bulldogs' first five games with a knee injury, gained 50 yards in six carries. He had 152 yards and four touchdowns in a 29-15 win against Roosevelt last year and added 173 yards in the Bulldogs' 13-3 win in 2010. Garfield has beaten its rival six times in the last eight East L.A. Classics.
"The crowd, the attention leading up to it, the tradition... something about this game brings out the best in me," Fernandez said. "Running out of that tunnel always gets me pumped up."
Garfield quarterback Joshua Mendoza completed nine of 16 passes for 107 yards and Munoz caught five passes for 125 yards.
"Coming in we knew they were a tough opponent and on this kind of stage we just wanted to chip away," said Mendoza, whose father graduated from Garfield in 1982. "It was a nailbiter but our defense did a great job."
Homecoming king Gilbert Herrera rushed for 62 yards in 12 carries and caught four passes for 17 yards for the Rough Riders (8-2, 5-1). Quarterback David Arriaga completed 15 of 27 passes for 146 yards and
It was the first shutout in the rivalry since Roosevelt won 33-0 in 2003. Roosevelt leads 40-32-26 in a series that began in 1925.
"I have high expectations for the defense," Fernandez said. "They always get the stop when we need it."