For three and a half quarters Friday night, the Shadow Hills Knights struggled to put together any kind of a consistent offense against a stubborn Twentynine Palms defense.
But in the closing minutes of the game, the Knights’ offense finally clicked to produce a winning score in a 21-14 football victory at Nichols Field.
Shadow Hills quarterback Michael Suarez hit receiver Isaiah Ortega-Dage with an 18-yard scoring pass with just 3:35 left in the game, lifting the Knights to what head coach Ron Shipley called a must-win victory. The Knights improved to 1-1 in the De Anza League, 4-3 on the season. Twentynine Palms dropped to 0-2 in the De Anza League and 1-6 overall.
“We’ve told the kids our goal is to win out,” Shipley said after the win. “We had to have this one.”
While Suarez struggled most of the night against the pressure of the Wildcats defense, in the closing drive he hit four of his five passes, leading the Knights on an 80-yard scoring drive in six plays.
“The offensive line stepped up,” Suarez said. “The guys were getting open and it just finally came together.
Suarez found Preston Green on three consecutive passes for gains of 7, 19 and 22 yards, interrupted only by a Suarez 14-yard run. On first and 10 from the Wildcats’ 18, Suarez lofted a pass into the right corner of the end zone for Ortega-Dage. Ortega-Dage came back under the Twentynine Palms defender to make the catch and give the Knights their first lead.
“I give Twentynine Palms a lot of credit,” Shipley said. “They played hard tonight and put a lot of pressure on us. But finally in that last drive the offensive line did the job and gave Suarez some protection.”
Both teams struggled on offense most of the night, but it was the Wildcats who struck for the first touchdown of the game late in the first quarter. Quarterback Jake Culver found running back Talo Wilson for a 5-yard touchdown and the 7-0 lead.
Suarez and Ortega-Dage hit the game’s first big play with just 2:21 left in the first half. Ortega-Dage ran free behind the Wildcats secondary and Suarez found him with a long pass for a 71-yard touchdown. The point-after kick sailed wide and Twentynine Palms remained up 7-6.
The Wildcats pushed the lead to 14-6 midway through the third quarter on a 5-yard run by Cody Hall, and the Knights still trailed entering the fourth period.
But that’s when Twentynine Palms virtually handed the Knights a touchdown. After the Knights went for a touchdown on fourth-and-goal from the 2 and failed, Twentynine Palms quarterback Culver fumbled at his own 1, with the Knights recovering.
Tony Williams scored on the 1-yard run, and Martin Hernandez ran in the two-point conversion to tie the game at 14-14, setting up the final moments.
Twentynine Palms’ last drive for a tying TD ended when Culver was hit and fumbled, with the Knights recovering the ball at their own 47 with 1:24 remaining.
“We have a long way to go, and we will have some work to do on offense,” Shipley said. “We struggled in the first half to get anything going, but the defense kept us in the game. But we got a win we needed.”