With one of the top boxers in the world in Timothy Bradley on their sideline as a new addition to the coaching staff, the La Quinta High School football team has sure learned how to punch and take one, too.
For 45 minutes, two powerhouses, vying for the title of the top team in the Coachella Valley, traded blows, but when push came to shove, the Blackhawks struck hardest and last, outlasting Rancho Mirage at home 28-21 for the team’s first win of the season.
Their fight, though, paled in comparison to the one represented across the La Quinta bleachers. Decked out in yellow from head to toe, the Blackhawks banded together in solidarity for Riley Rose Sherman, a local child recently diagnosed with stage four neuroblastoma.
Still, the Blackhawks’ fight was one of hope – starting slow, yet never wavering, they held on to the finish.
Fighting through a strained hamstring and several bouts of cramping, senior La Quinta running back Benji Cordova somehow strung together the game of the night with 205 yards on the ground on 21 rushes, including two scores.
On his second touchdown of the night, just two minutes into the second half, it appeared the Rattlers front seven had Cordova pinned inside his own 10-yard-line for a loss, before he found a seam on the outside, and took off for 86 yards, injured hamstring, ankle brace and all.
Cordova had been a big question mark coming into Friday night’s game and was listed as doubtful according to coach Dan Armstrong early in the week. But he warmed up with the team and saw his first carry just moments into the action. In a game where every yard and caught ball mattered, seeing Cordova need help getting off the field and fighting his way back to so-so health and onto the field inspired his teammates with the game on the line.
“It was a lot of motivation for us, ‘cause that kid has heart,” senior wide receiver Justin Anderson said. “To see him push through his injuries and still come back and want to get the ball, it hyped all of us up.”
But the hype was lacking in both offenses to start. Both teams, with several electric players, struggled to string together enough positive plays to keep drives going. After turning it over on downs in Rattler territory their first drive, La Quinta then fumbled within five yards of scoring and punted its third time around. Cordova’s 11-yard touchdown scramble with under three minutes to play in the first half was the team’s first sign of life.
The Rattlers answered with a 37-yard pass from sophomore quarterback David Talley to junior Marques Prior, set up by a roughing the passer call the play before.
La Quinta, in particular, piled up loads more holding calls in the second half, ones Armstrong was none too happy with.
“I thought this game could have been over by halftime, but we fumbled going in, and you can’t seem to play man-to-man without getting holding penalties all over the place,” he said. “They’re a good team, and they fought hard tonight and came fired up, but I think if we don’t fumble on the three and have nearly 200 yards in penalties, that’s a totally different game.”
After Cordova’s 86-yard score, the Rattlers again countered with an eight-yard scoring run from Kyle Whitefield. Staying in theme, the teams traded fumbles, punts and another touchdown until the waning minutes, when senior La Quinta quarterback Andrew Garcia found Adam Kasten in the end zone for the second time of the night, this time for a 37-yard scoring bomb.
And with two untimely Rattler drops just short of midfield with the clock under two minutes to go, Kasten’s second score would prove to be the knockout punch.
Even on the losing side, though, it was a battle Rancho Mirage coach LD Matthews had looked forward to and was pleased with from his Rattlers moving forward.
“I’m extremely proud of them, and I wouldn’t trade them for any team in the valley,” he said. “These are the type of games you love to coach and be a part of.
“We had several opportunities to make plays, particularly on that last drive and if we make them, it’s a different game, but we have nothing to be ashamed of.”
LA QUINTA 28, RANCHO MIRAGE 21
La Quinta – 0 7 7 14 — 28
Rancho Mirage – 0 7 7 7 — 21
(LQ) Cordova 11-yard run, PAT good (2:42)
(RM) Talley 37-yard pass to Prior, PAT good (2:21)
(LQ) Cordova 86-yard run, PAT good (9: 51)
(RM) Whitefield 8-yard run, PAT good (7:57)
(LQ) Garcia 14-yard pass to Kasten, PAT good (7:34)
(RM) Whiefield 1-yard run, PAT good (5:44)
(LQ) Garcia 37-yard pass to Kasten, PAT good (2:45)
Rushing (Carries-Yds-TD) – LQ: 5-20-0, Garcia 11-45-0, Cordova 21-205-2, Anderson 5-29-0, Kennedy 3-21-0, Sanchez 3-1-0. RM: Prior 4-11-0, Talley 11-23-0, Whitefield 15-69-2, Munoz 1-5-0.
Passing (Comp-Att-TD-INT-Yds) – LQ: Garcia 10-24-2-0-181. Anderson 0-1-0-0-0. RM: Talley 6-14-1-0-119, Prior 2-2-0-0-76.
Receiving (Rec-Yds-TD) – LQ: Cordova 1-1-0, Anderson 4-88-0, Kasten 4-72-2, Cabrera 1-20-0. RM: Whitefield 1-13-0, Prior 3-71-1, Sandoval 2-35-0, Hernandez 1-49-0.