The task appeared Sisyphean for an undoubtedly-improved Indio High football team this season. Suffering three well-played losses in the past three games, it appeared the Rajahs may again be denied a season sans conference victory, having not won a DVL game since defeating Coachella Valley 37-0 in November 2011.
The losing streak reached 24 defeats in a row.
That changed Friday night. Welcome back to the top of the hill, Indio.
Down 14-0 at halftime to host Xavier Prep on Homecoming Night, Indio battled back in the latter half to tie the game at 14 apiece with a pair of third quarter scores in a six-minute span.
Yet come the game’s waning moments, a six-yard TD run by Xavier quarterback Michael Johnson would seem to seal another spirited defeat for the visitors.
A missed Xavier extra point seemingly gave Indio hope, however, as the Rajahs took over, down 20-14 with just over three minutes to play from their own 19-yard line.
After successfully converting a 4th-and-inches from near midfield with just over a minute to play, Indio’s modest but impassioned fan base was brought to a roar when quarterback Aubuchon Martinez found wideout Erick Barajas on a 36-yard connection deep into Saints’ territory; a personal foul call on Xavier took the ball down to the nine and two plays later, Martinez rolled out to his left for a game-tying toss to Joel Gutierrez with 25 seconds to play.
“It was a ’22 Boot,’ so I just rolled out and he (Gutierrez) was wide open,” detailed Martinez. “So I just threw a dart and we went on to victory.”
A tense extra point make by Rajahs’ kicker Pedro Zazueta authored the winning point in the 21-20 win.
“It’s a testament to the kids,” said Indio head coach Martin White. “We played two teams all year: We’ve been beatin’ ourselves, and playing the other team, too. But these kids have been playing with heart and they deserve what we got tonight. It’s just so gratifying to go from the moral victory to actually getting the victory.”
Just an hour after its Homecoming fanfare and halftime edge, the Xavier faithful seemed stunned at the outcome.
“They (Indio) did what we thought, as far as pounding the football, which is kind of our Achilles’ heel,” said Saints’ head coach Bob Molyet. “We had nine guys in the box, trying to stop ‘em, but they kept moving the ball, held on to it and kept the game close. And our offense is predicated on getting the ball, moving and scoring quick – which I think you saw – but Indio did a nice job of keeping the ball out of our hands.”
Star of the Game – Martinez
The sophomore signal-caller became visibly more comfortable with each pressure-packed minute. Prior to his TD toss, Martinez scored the game’s tying touchdown on an 8-yard run in which he fumbled the snap before finding paydirt.
Unsung Heroes—David Alvarado and Chandler Barbato
Prior to limping off the field with an apparent leg injury deep into the third, Indio junior back David Alvarado rushed for 153 yards, highlighted by a 71-yard TD in the third quarter to put Indio on the board. Though he’d return to the game, Alvarado would rush just once more the rest of the way, finishing the night with 154 ground yards.
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For Xavier, when Chandler Barbato touched the ball, good things happened. The junior receiver caught a pair of passes in the first half – both for touchdowns – and his third and final catch of the night was good for 32 yards to set up the Saints’ final score.
Indio (1-2 DVL, 2-5) will try for consecutive conference wins at 7 p.m. next Friday in a home matchup against Cathedral City. Xavier Prep (1-3 DVL, 3-5) now enjoys its bye week before a trip to Palm Springs on Friday, Oct. 28.
Judd Spicer is an award-winning freelance writer. He has contributed to The Desert Sun since 2011 and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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INDIO — 21
XAVIER PREP — 20
Indio 0 0 14 7 — 21
Xavier Prep 7 7 0 6 — 20
(XP) Chandler Barbato 11 pass from Michael Johnson (Logan Pesko kick)
(XP) Chandler Barbato 25 pass from Michael Johnson (Logan Pesko kick)
(I)David Alvarado 71 run (Pedro Zazueta kick)
(I)Aubuchon Martinez 8 run (Pedro Zazueta kick)
(XP) Michael Johnson 6 run (Kick failed)
(I)Joel Gutierrez 6 pass from Aubuchon Martinez (Pedro Zazueta kick)
RUSHING (Carries-Yds) —). I: David Alvarado 17-154, Jose Perez 14-42, Dimitri Long 5-35, Adam Ceja 9-26, Aubuchon Martinez 4-19. XP: Michael Johnson 7-30, Braxton Wehrli 3-16, Mason Sarna 4-15, Adam Gill 1-3.
PASSING (Comp.-Att- INT—TD- Yds) — I: Aubuchon Martinez 5-14-1-1-64, Dmitri Long 0-1-0-0-0. XP: Michael Johnson 15-27-1-2-217.
RECEIVING (Rec.-Yds) — I: Joel Gutierrez 3-19, Erick Barajas 1-36, Jose Perez 1-9. XP: Fabrice Voyne 4-78, Juan Lua 4-26, Chandler Barbato 3-68, Mason Sarna 3-40, Braxton Wehrli 1-5.