On opposite ends of the Coachella Valley as well as in the newest facility in the area, three De Anza League teams are trying to accomplish the same goal — close the gap between themselves and Big Bear, Twentynine Palms and Yucca Valley.
Those three latter teams have dominated the league, but Desert Hot Springs, Desert Mirage and Shadow Hills are working hard to change that.
Desert Hot Springs has been the closest in recent years, clinching at-large playoff berths in the East Valley Division the past two seasons. They have been excruciatingly close to clinching an automatic berth each year, but haven’t finished first or second in the league. In 2010, Twentynine Palms scored a game-winning touchdown with 20 seconds remaining. The deciding loss was more painful last year.
It was Oct. 14, and I had covered the wrong game. As I was driving back from Indio, the site of Palm Springs’ 49-0 shutout victory over the Rajahs, the game in Desert Hot Springs between the Golden Eagles and Big Bear was just getting interesting. In the longest high school football game in state history, Big Bear won 56-50 in eight overtimes.
In what might be the most anticipated rematch for any team in the desert this year, Desert Hot Springs will travel to Big Bear on Sept. 1. It’s a scheduling quirk that the De Anza League matchup will be the second game of the season for both teams, but perhaps early in the season, the Bears won’t run the triple option as crisply as they will later in the season.
The Golden Eagles are returning four starters on offense and six on defense. Steven Steed takes over at quarterback, and he will look to connect with Keyvion Mayhan, a transfer from Cajon. T. Armstrong and Devyn Wright are competing for carries in the backfield, and Charles O’Brien and Jesse Ford are the veterans on the offensive line. On defense, coach L.D. Matthews is excited about the speed in his linebacking corps and secondary.
On the other end of the valley, Desert Mirage is looking to build on last year’s 4-6 campaign. Like Desert Hot Springs, the Rams have a compelling game in September — the fifth-annual Date Bowl against Coachella Valley. Desert Mirage beat the Arabs for the first time last year, and they are aiming to hold onto the trophy.
The Rams lost key contributors such as running back Alexis Galarza and linebackers Geo Favela and Paul Coronado, who were as important for their leadership as their tackles and carries. Players aiming to step up to fill their shoes include running back Victor Nino, who started at quarterback last year; center Jose Dimas, tackle Jesus Felipe and guard Nick Lozano up front; and running back Damian Gutierrez, linebacker Alex Navarro and running back Moises Zepeda.
Shadow Hills will try to begin the season how it ended last year — with a victory. The Knights beat Yucca Valley 13-7 for their first-ever De Anza League victory, finishing their second varsity season 3-7. This year, for the first time, a senior class that has attended Shadow Hills for four years will graduate.
Those players now understand what it takes to build a program, and their work ethic has shown this summer. The offensive line led the charge earlier this month, coming to school to work out and push the sled on their own when no practice was scheduled. Depth will help the Knights as linemen won’t have to play on both sides of the ball. Some of the team’s key players include running back James Toland, quarterback Michael Suarez, offensive tackle Juan Martinez and linebacker Tristin Traughber.
Check back tomorrow for a preview of the La Quinta Blackhawks.