Facing third-and-19 and trailing by four with under eight minutes to play Friday, the Palm Springs offense huddled together for a moment of truth.
The Indians’ defense had just made the biggest stop of the game, but needed the offense to finish off an unlikely comeback in the CIF-SS Eastern Division championship game at Serrano High School.
“We knew what we had to do,” senior receiver Ray Mullen said. “We knew we had to get this, and we all just believed in each other.”
Moments later, quarterback William Olvera found Tayler Hawkins on an out route for a 33-yard gain to keep the Indians alive. Four plays later, Olvera found Mullen for the decisive play of the game — a 38-yard catch over the middle — and Franklin Miller punched it into the end zone to give the Indians the lead.
Palm Springs only led Serrano for the final 5:41 of the game, but that was all the Indians needed to secure a 24-21 victory and a second CIF title in school history. Palm Springs also beat Serrano for the title in 2009.
“We knew if we were within a touchdown, as quick as we can score, that we’d be in good shape,” Palm Springs head coach Dan Murphy said. “The kids just never gave up. That’s what I’m most proud of about this team. They’re fighters and they don’t give up.
“It’s just an incredible feeling.”
Palm Springs celebrate their win over Serrano for the CIF Eastern Division title in Phelan on Friday, December 5, 2014.
Despite the more than two-hour drive, several hundred Palm Springs fans filled in the visitors’ bleachers and provided the Indians with fuel down the stretch.
Early on, it appeared those who had traveled from the Coachella Valley would go home in disappointment. Serrano scored to open the game on a 14-play, 83-yard drive and Palm Springs went three-and-out on its first series. On the Indians’ next drive, Olvera threw a rare interception and tailback Geordan King punched the ball in again.
The question critics had of Palm Springs (12-2) coming into the game is whether the Indians could stop Serrano’s power run game, which rolled up 381 yards on La Quinta last week.
King finished with 250 rushing yards and three scores on 45 carries, including a 43-yard touchdown early in the second half to put Serrano up, 21-10.
But rather than hit the panic button, Palm Springs stayed true to its offensive game plan and brought its secondary to the edge to neutralize King for the rest of the game.
“They were running the same couple plays over and over, and we eventually stopped it,” senior linebacker Ryan Koehler said. “Then their offense had nowhere else to go.”
Olvera found Tayler Hawkins for a 9-yard touchdown in the third and then, early in the fourth, Trenton Thompson and Israel Gumero s
tuffed Serrano’s Andrew Valencia on a reverse for a turnover on downs.
On the ensuing drive, a holding call made it third-and-19 for the Indians, and Olvera, Hawkins, Mullen and Miller took it from there.
Serrano (12-2) ran 13 plays on their next possession, but couldn’t pass against the Palm Springs defense and King ran for just 12 yards on six carries.
“They really took the ‘Believe and Battle’ mantra and played for one another and everything came together,” Murphy said. “They didn’t get down on one another when we were down at the half and just made some incredible stops on defense when we needed it and got the job done offensively.”
The CIF title is Palm Springs’ second in football and second for the fall 2014 season. The Indians won in girls’ volleyball in November. The football team also played Serrano in its first-ever title game in 2004, but lost that one 25-18.
Until recently, the players from this year’s team had only heard about that 2009 title, and what it felt like to win one.
Now they know that feeling for themselves.
“It feels great,”Koehler said. “It hasn’t sunk in yet. It probably will tomorrow.”