Trae Riek had one focus Friday, and it wasn’t the inevitable birthday celebration that awaited him.
The Palm Desert running back rushed for 456 yards and four touchdowns against Cathedral City last week. A week later, he said he’d gladly take a win against Palm Springs over another big statistical outpouring.
Turns out he didn’t have to sacrifice one to get the other.
Riek scored four touchdowns, leading the Aztecs to their first win over Desert Valley League rival Palm Springs since 2007 — a streak of eight consecutive games. He ran for 180 yards and three touchdowns and made the play of the game, returning an interception 99 yards for a score with 23 seconds remaining before halftime in a 31-14 victory.
“That pick-six before the half was the biggest play of the game, for sure,” quarterback Kyle Kabeary said. “That was huge.”
Kabeary also had a big night, rushing for 155 yards, passing for another 40, and converting on a 45-yard field goal. He also continually punted the ball deep, putting Palm Springs in unfavorable field position all night.
The game was played at the new Rancho Mirage High School instead of the previously scheduled field at Palm Springs. Chunks of glass were discovered Friday afternoon in the field amendment used to re-seed the field. Coaches wanted to play the game instead of re-schedule, and the field at Rancho Mirage was available.
Playing away from home may have put the Indians at a disadvantage. Though the game was played on a neutral field, Palm Springs had won 32 of its last 33 at home. Instead, it was more of a mixed crowd, though the majority of the more than 2,000 in attendance were pro-Palm Springs.
The first 12 minutes felt like déjà vu for those who saw the first meeting between the two teams, on Aug. 30. The Aztecs got the ball first and promptly march down the field and scored in five plays. The Indians then went three-and-out-and Palm Desert quickly scored again.
“All week, Coach was telling us, ‘This is the DVL championship,'” Kabeary said. “We had to treat this game like a championship game from the start.”
Palm Desert eventually took a 17-0 lead in the second quarter on Riek’s second rushing touchdown of the night, and it became evident that Palm Springs would need a momentum-changing drive to get back in the game. It nearly got it just before halftime.
Trailing 17-7, the Indians were inside the Palm Desert 10 yard line with a chance to bring the score within three heading into halftime. This appeared to be the moment Palm Springs would forge its way back into the game.
But Riek read the pass from quarterback William Olvera, intercepted the ball and then raced down the Palm Springs sideline to complete a 14-point swing that completely sapped away any momentum the Indians had generated.
In the second half, the Aztecs’ defense again showed how much it has improved since the bye week two weeks ago. Palm Desert stuffed Cathedral City for just seven points in the second half last week. The defense did it again against Palm Springs, holding the Indians to just 104 yards and seven points after halftime.
“The defense stepped up big,” Palm Desert coach Pat Blackburn said. “They made consistent stops and allowed us to get conservative in the second half.”
Offensively, Blackburn pounded the ball and milked the clock with his two stars, Riek and Kabeary. The pair combined for more than 300 yards rushing and further showed that when they are playing well, despite a 1-4 start, Palm Desert is a legit contender in the DVL.
After it was all over, Riek had a chance to take it all in. This is the first time he, or anyone else on the Palm Desert squad for that matter, had beaten the Indians. And after they finally did it, birthday or not, they were plenty of reasons to celebrate.
“This feels amazing,” Riek said. “I think we just shocked the DVL.”