Desert Hot Springs only allowed four big plays Thursday, but that was all Palo Verde Valley needed. The Yellow Jackets scored 28 unanswered points to snatch away what could have been the Golden Eagles first win of the season.
Despite its offense being held in check for most of the first half, capitalizing in key moments allowed the Yellow Jackets to erase a 13-point deficit and storm back to a 28-13 victory in front of a crowd of more than 800.
Desert Hot Springs immediately took charge to open the game, forcing a 3-and-out and scoring on its first possession. Antonio Moreno started at quarterback and a 43-yard screen pass to T Armstrong set up a 3-yard run by Armstrong to put the Golden Eagles on the board early.
“I thought we came out and played really well,” head coach Eric Perry said. “We came in with a solid game plan and we executed.”
The Golden Eagles again forced a 3-and-out and followed it with another touchdown by Armstrong two possessions later, this time on a 68-yard scamper down the right sideline.
Suddenly, Desert Hot Springs (0-5) looked like a different team than the one that had shown inconsistency all season. The loss of starting quarterback Steven Steed, who left the team last Friday, appeared to be of little consequence.
But on the ensuing kickoff, Damian Ramirez of Palo Verde raced down the DHS sideline for a 91-yard score. What momentum the Golden Eagles (2-1) had seemed to slip away with each yard Ramirez gained.
“It’s was like one of those ‘Oh boy, here we go again things,’ ” Perry said. “That play was huge.”
Desert Hot Springs kept Ramirez in check all game. The receiver has more than 525 yards receiving and eight touchdowns in two games this season. That one play was the turning point, though.
“That stunned us,” Armstrong said. “I mean, that was shocking, and I think it all came unraveling from there.”
Later, in the second quarter, the Yellow Jackets found themselves in a fourth-down situation before they were beneficiaries of a roughing-the-passer penalty, which allowed Palo Verde another shot to score just before halftime. With 20 seconds remaining in the half, Logan Whiting found Jose Gaytan for a 30-yard strike, essentially swiping away any momentum DHS had heading into halftime.
Trailing entering the second half, the Golden Eagles were unable to successfully continue with their game plan to control the ball and, ultimately, the clock. The run game stalled on multiple occasions, and DHS was forced to pass the ball, something they are still adjusting to without Steed.
The clincher came for Palo Verde when with 4:57 remaining in the third quarter, the Golden Eagles muffed a punt return and in a heap the Yellow Jackets came up with the ball on the DHS 22. One play later, Markel Noble raced 21 yards for the clinching touchdown.
“In a close game, four or five plays can win or lose a game,” Perry said. “We thought we played well, but they made more plays than us. Plain and simple.”
Despite the loss, Perry said he was encouraged by the way the team played, especially two hours from home and facing adversity for the past few weeks. He said he’s building the team for the second half of the season and it optimistic about their chances based on what he saw against Palo Verde.
“We are playing much better than we were,” Perry said. “We’re headed in a positive direction. Kids aren’t confused like they used to be. We’ve just got to get a win and taste that, and I think good things are going to happen.”