L.D. Matthews had never coached a team to a win over Twentynine Palms before Friday evening. Dating back to 2010, his previous five attempts each ended with the same outcome. That included a loss a year ago that determined the De Anza League champion.
Winning that league title this year was at the top of the Rattlers’ list of priorities to start the season. To do that, Matthews would have to make some personal history against the defending champs.
Rancho Mirage took that to heart and rose to the occasion in the second half of Friday’s 38-3 thrashing over Twentynine Palms, securing a win that is likely bigger than any kind of personal achievement. The Senior Night victory breaks up a log jam atop the league standings, providing the Rattlers with sole possession of first place with three regular season games remaining. Coachella Valley defeated Yucca Valley in a narrow victory that ended the Trojans’ unbeaten season.
The Rattlers’ victory, though decisive, came only after a difficult first half, offensively. Rancho Mirage managed just a single touchdown before the intermission, set up by a Marques Prior interception return that gave the Rattlers the ball three yards from the end zone. Daniel Whelan then converted on a 39-yard field goal attempt in the second quarter.
The Rancho Mirage defense, on the other hand, forced five turnovers in the game, and allowed just 13 yards of total offense in the first half, a week after Coachella Valley racked up 353 against the Rattlers.
“Our defense has been doing it all year,” Matthew said. “They’ve been making up for our offense, and really are the backbone of our team this year.”
Rancho Mirage (5-2, 2-0 De Anza) took a 10-0 lead into halftime after Whelan’s 55-yard attempt was blocked and nearly returned for a touchdown as time expired on the half.
In the third quarter, Matthews moved Prior back to quarterback, where he started for two years, and Rancho Mirage looked like a team possessed, moving the ball with ease on a six-play, 83-yard scoring drive. The Rattlers forced their third interception of the game a drive later, then put the ball in the end zone a second time within three minutes.
When it was over, Prior had scored twice, rushed for 120 yards on 10 carries, and had two interceptions while playing defense. The second, which he returned for a touchdown, was brought back on a pass interference penalty.
“His competitive spirit is unlike any other kid I’ve ever coached,” Matthews said of Prior. “He really is a game-changer, so switching him (to quarterback) during the middle of the game really opened things up for us.”
Senior tailback Kyle Whitefield again surpassed the 100-yard rushing barrier, adding two rushing scores of his own. He was the Rattlers’ offense in the first half, while the defense kept Rancho Mirage in it early.
“Every time we go out there, all season, the goal is to keep teams from scoring,” senior linebacker Josh Ramirez said.”We allowed three points tonight, but we’re still pretty happy with our performance.”
Before play began, a moment of silence was observed for the two fallen Palm Springs police offers who were killed by a gunman on Oct. 8.
Former NFL Pro Bowl linebacker and 1980 Heisman Trophy runner-up Hugh Green was the special guest of the night. Green was a client of former sports agent Jerry Argovitz, a Rancho Mirage resident whose name graces the football stadium. Argovitz and his wife, Loni, have donated more than $1 million to the school.
The Rattlers will play at Yucca Valley next week in a game that could be the de facto league title game.
“Every game is big for us from here on out,” senior lineman Jonny Avila said. “This was a good win for us, but it’s just one game and we still have a few more left to play.”
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RANCHO MIRAGE 38, TWENTYNINE PALMS 3
1 2 3 4 T
RM 7 3 7 21 38
TP 0 0 0 0 3
Passing (Comp-Att-TD-INT-Yards) RM: David Talley 2-7-0-0-26, Marques Prior 1-1-0-0-10 TP: Hugh Carpenter 11-23-0-4-70
Rushing (Att-Yards-TD) RM: Kyle Whitefield 15-117-2, Marques Prior 10-120-2, David Talley 9-14, Mairyk Ferrer 3-8. TP: Hunter Tygart 7-25, KJ Magwood Morton 6-14, Derek Sutherland 2-5, Tyler Cobb 1-6, Carpenter 4-(minus 26), D’Shaun Barrett 4-7.
Receiving (Rec-Yards-TD) RM: Marques Prior 1-5, Whitefield 1-21, David Talley 1-10 TP: Derek Sutherland 2-28, D’Shaun Barrett 2-10, Isaiah Castenada 1-3, KJ Magwood Morton 1-3, Adam Bell, 3-23, Abraham Bell 1-5, Eneliko Tuli 1-(minus 2)
(RM) Kyle Whitefield 3-yard run (Daniel Whelan kick)
(RM) Whelan 39-yard field goal
(TP) Ryan Stowers 30-yard field goal
(RM) Marques Prior 1-yard run (Whelan kick)
(RM) Whitefield 6-yard run (Whelan kick)
(RM) Prior 16-yard run (Whelan kick)
(RM) Mikey Ramos 46-yard interception return (Whelan kick)