It will go down as a loss in the record book, the finality of a season to remember at La Quinta High School.
What the file won’t show is just how good this team could have been had the stars aligned and everything fell into place this year for the Blackhawks.
It won’t show how La Quinta overcame a season-ending injury to its leader and perhaps most talented player during the preseason. It won’t show how the team with early CIF title aspirations overcame adversity when it could have otherwise rolled over.
The ledger will only show that La Quinta ended its 2013 season with a 42-12 loss to Heritage in a game that was never really close.
Yet, for the players and coaches inside the locker room, the final score was hardly indicative of the type of season La Quinta experienced.
“It’s kind of tough to talk about right now,” senior lineman Ben Simonds said moments after the game. “It was obviously a great season, but we just came up short this time. I love all these guys, and I think we proved a lot.”
What La Quinta proved was that it could compete at a high level even without star running back Kenyon Williams, who was just the first on a growing list of starters who missed most or all of the season with serious injuries.
La Quinta (8-4) won eight games for the first time since 2010 with a team whose depth chart at key positions looked much different than it did entering the season. The Blackhawks made adjustments at the right time and the number of unsung heroes were many.
“If you would have told me that we would lost Kenyon and Dejon (Wilson) and Michael Sillers and guys like that and be where we are right now, I would’ve thought you were nuts,” head coach Dan Armstrong said. “But guys really stepped up and I’m really proud of these guys.”
The Blackhawks claimed all but one of their preseason goals this year. They beat Palm Springs to get the Mike Gates Trophy. They beat Palm Desert to get the Victory Flag.
They earned a share of the Desert Valley League title. They only thing they were unable to check off their to-do list was win CIF.
Standing in the way of that goal was No. 2 seed Heritage (11-1), a team that has two Division I recruits in its backfield.
La Quinta elected to defer to start the game, then recovered an onside kick on the first play. But the Patriots’ superior defense stuffed the Blackhawks on their first drive and then proceeded to score touchdowns on their first three possessions.
San Jose State recruit Limihai Hifo ran for 316 yards on 16 carries, including runs of 88, 81 and 90 yards. La Quinta just didn’t have an answer.
“I love this team, they’ve got nothing to be ashamed of,” Armstrong said of his Blackhawks. “Sometimes you just play a better team, and I think that’s what happened tonight.”
La Quinta had several players going both ways and Heritage wore those guys down, running all over the field and converting through the air when the defense keyed on the run. Patriots’ quarterback Brett Virgil threw five passes, three for touchdowns.
For the Blackhawks, running back Vince Guzman ran for 191 yards and a pair of scores. But the passing game never got going, which stalled out drives and contributed to two of La Quinta’s three turnovers.
As the seconds and minutes ticked away in the fourth quarter, the end became apparent to several of La Quinta’s seniors. Many of them have played all four years of high school football together, and several of them reflected on how this group of players is bound together.
“This senior class, we’re like a brotherhood,” senior cornerback Patrick Lucas said. “We grew up together, we play together and we just wanted to make sure we set an example for these underclassmen, make sure we always play with heart and never give up.”
Armstrong may never get over how one of his most talented teams ever — one that multiple DVL coaches believed had the talent to win CIF — was decimated by injuries.
But he’s content knowing this year’s group took a difficult situation and turned it into what will surely go down as one of the more memorable season’s of Armstrong’s 19-year tenure.
“We can sit and think about what could’ve been,” Armstrong said. “But we’ll remember that this year we got the flag, we got the Mike Gates Trophy, so we accomplished a lot.
“Our goal at La Quinta is always to win the CIF title, but I’m real proud of these guys. This is a team I’m really going to miss.”