It was a fruitful Friday night for the Palm Desert High School football team. I know the Aztecs lost 26-13 to Redlands, and Terriers running back Craig Lee, who has verbally committed to UCLA, rushed for 190 yards and three touchdowns. But the result was less important than the progress Palm Desert has made since its opener against Palm Springs three weeks ago.
As Aztecs coach Pat Blackburn said after the game, “That’s a good football team we played.” Redlands is ranked ninth in the CIF Southern Section Inland Division, which features the best teams in the Inland Empire. Teams from the Desert Valley League frankly can’t match up with bigger schools like Redlands that have a nucleus of talented players. The Terriers feature not only Lee, but also wide receiver Walter Jones and linebacker D.J. Biggers, a junior I’m sure will suit up for a Division I program. Biggers made defensive plays all over the field. Aztecs quarterback Joe Castelli was surprised to hear he was only a junior when I told him after the game.
Despite the gap in talent, the Aztecs played well against Redlands. They weren’t going to blow away the Terriers with big plays, especially when wide receiver Alex Jones sprained his ankle on the game’s opening drive. But the offense remained poised and put together some good drives, looking much crisper than in the opener against Palm Springs. They forced three turnovers on defense, including two interceptions by Braden Bateman. Defenders had trouble keeping Redlands from bouncing runs to the outside, but the Aztecs will have time to fix their pursuit angles.
The Aztecs are 0-3, but don’t count them out. Like La Quinta, they’ve played a challenging non-league schedule so far, and they are improving. The Desert Valley League race remains wide open.