Football was the farthest thing from so many minds Friday night for those in the Palm Springs community still recovering from the tragedy that struck six days ago.
But sometimes, sports creates the best distraction for communities grieving. Baseball games in New York City and a football game in New Orleans paint some of the most vivid memories of pride inside a sports arena in the last 15 years.
And at Palm Desert High School, for just a few hours, a group of teenagers provided plenty of joy for the crowd of fans who needed it most, bringing home a 31-10 victory over Palm Desert to move into a tie for second place in the Desert Valley League.
To honor Palm Springs Police Officers Jose Gil Vega and Lesley Zerebny, who were gunned down in the line of duty last Saturday afternoon, Indians coach Dan Murphy and his players donned special helmet decals and shirts for the coaches to display their solidarity for the grieving families.
It was a lesson, Murphy said, that spanned well beyond the football field.
“I told the kids all week that we’re not just playing for our high school or ourselves,” he said. “We’re playing for our community that’s been so supportive of us over the years. For the kids to realize it’s bigger than football, it was great to see them show their respect and honor the community.”
Following a moment of silence after the national anthem, the Indians, led by sophomore quarterback Jeremy Dotson, needed little time to make their community proud. Dotson connected with senior wideout Damion Lee on the sixth play of the game with a 47-yard perfectly placed ball, and after Lee broke one tackle, he sauntered into the end zone for the game’s first score.
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The accurate long shot down the field was just one of many in the game for Dotson, who completed five passes of 15 yards or more to finish the night 20 of 31 for 244 yards and two touchdowns.
Murphy said after the game that Dotson’s rhythm early helped the offense find a groove it’s been missing in recent weeks, after narrow wins over Cathedral City and Indio, combined with a low-scoring loss to La Quinta. The defense has been there, giving up 31 points in three weeks, but for the Indians to make a serious postseason push in Division 4 – or even make it there – Murphy said Palm Springs needs more of the same.
“Our defense has really bailed us out the last two games, and we really started clicking tonight,” Murphy said. “Our offensive line gave plenty of time for Jeremy to see some reads, and I thought we did a good job of putting up some points.”
In the first half, though, the Aztecs managed to hang around, despite a struggle to string together positive plays for most of the first two quarters. The first spark came with under two minutes to go as coach Shane McComb brought junior wideout Brooks Stephenson in to replace sophomore quarterback Carter Stokes in the wildcat formation.
On the second try, Stephenson faked a handoff to junior running back Manny Sepulveda and took off for 32 yards into the red zone. Though it only produced a field goal, it seemed to show some promise.
McComb started the second half with the same look, but once the Aztecs switched back to a conventional look, trouble arrived as senior cornerback Isaiah Beltran picked off Stokes and returned it 50 yards for a score.
Down 24-3 but hunting for a score late in the fourth quarter, Stephenson made a similar ill-timed throw that found the hands of Palm Springs’ Nick Reyes-Foster to ice the game, even though Stephenson came through with a late-game touchdown catch.
Lee said that putting together the complete game on both sides of the ball was a great step forward for the Indians, especially on a night when so many needed it most.
“It felt good to put the community on our shoulders, ‘cause they’re always supporting us, like getting us our team meals,” he said. “It was hard at first, but knowing we had them (Vega and Zerebny) watching over us and pushing us forward just made it easier.”
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PALM SPRINGS 31, PALM DESERT 10
Palm Springs 7 3 7 14 — 31
Palm Desert 0 3 0 0 — 10
(PS) Jeremy Dotson 47-yard pass to Damion Lee, PAT good (9:14)
(PS) Leonel Munguia 21-yard field goal good (10:31)
(PD) Jacob McIlroy 24-yard field goal good (0:30)
(PS) Isaiah Beltran 50-yard interception return, (3:41)
(PS) Dotson eight-yard pass to Domanick Murray, PAT good (8:43)
(PS) Josh Barlow six-yard run, PAT good (3:07)
(PD) Carter Stokes 68-yard pass to Brooks Stephenson, PAT good (2:00)
Rushing (Att-Yds-TD) – PS: Nick Reyes-Foster 3-2, Josh Barlow 9-34, Isaiah Beltran 1-4, Jeremy Dotson 3-minus 1, Dameon Stovall-Price 2-12. PD: Manny Sepulveda 16-57, Carter Stokes 8-minus 7, Brooks Stephenson 10-73.
Passing (Comp-Att-Yds-TD-INT) – PS: Jeremy Dotson 20-31-244-2-0. PD: Carter Stokes 4-10-85-1-1, Brooks Stephenson 0-1-0-0-1.
Receiving (Catches-Yds-TD) – PS: Isaiah Beltran 5-39, Damion Lee 2-81-1, Josh Barlow 4-25, Nick Reyes-Foster 4-39, Stanton Lewis 4-52, Domanick Murray 1-8-1. PD: Brooks Stephenson 3-75-1, Jackson Emmett 1-10.