Palm Springs outlasts Oak Hills, advances to title game

Palm Springs outlasts Oak Hills, advances to title game

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Palm Springs outlasts Oak Hills, advances to title game

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At times Friday night, Ray Mullen felt he let his Palm Springs High School teammates down. But at a critical moment, Mullen made the play that lifted the Indians to a CIF-SS Eastern Division championship game.

Mullen’s interception of an Oak Hills pass deep in Palm Springs territory with 1:21 remaining in the game thwarted an Oak Hills comeback and secured a 27-23 Palm Springs win in a semifinal game at Ralph Watt Stadium.

The victory moves the Indians into the Eastern Division finals next Friday against Serrano High School in Phelan. Palm Springs improved to 11-2, while Oak Hills, from Hesperia, dropped to 10-3.

Until Mullen’s interception, it looked like Oak Hills might pull off a late comeback. But on a third-and-5 play from the Palm Springs 45, Oak Hills quarterback Nolan Brammer’s pass down the left sideline was intercepted at the Indians’ 9 by Mullen, who turned at the last second to catch the ball.

“I read the quarterback and I knew I had to make a play on the receiver because that was the receiver they wanted to go to to win the game,” Mullen said of his interception. “And I made a play.”

The Indians ran out the clock in the final seconds, with quarterback Will Olvera taking a knee on three snaps, then getting tackled on his team’s 1 as time expired.

The victory, coupled with Serrano’s 52-24 win over La Quinta, means Palm Springs and Serrano will meet in a CIF-Southern Section championship game for the third time in 10 years. Serrano won the matchup in 2004, with Palm Springs winning on its home field in 2009. That 2009 win was the last CIF-SS football title for any desert 11-man team.


Players celebrate after Palm Springs defeated Oak Hills in their CIF semifinal football game at Palm Springs High. The Indians won 27-23.

For Palm Springs coach Dan Murphy, the finals berth confirms what he began to believe earlier in the year, that his team could win a CIF-SS title.

“I thought after we played La Quinta, the way we fought them,” Murphy said of his team’s 34-29 loss to La Quinta in October. “We knew they were one of the top teams in the division. The way our kids fought, I was concerned if we could match (La Quinta) up front, and we did.”

The Indians needed a second-half comeback Friday against Oak Hills. The Indians trailed 17-10 at halftime after a half that saw Palm Springs limited offensively to a 97-yard opening kickoff return by Tayler Hawkins and a 28-yard field goal by Brandon Montano.

But in the second half, the Palm Springs strategy of quick passes to the outside rather than the team’s normal passes downfield started to pay off.

“They matched up with us athletic-wise. They had a lot of great athletes in the defensive backfield,” Murphy said of Oak Hills. “We saw on film that (the short pass) was what they were giving up, that part of the game. So we took advantage of that, exploited that.”

Frustrating finish for La Quinta, as Serrano runs wild

“That was the plan, pretty much all week,” Olvera said. “My dad, he coached me up all week. We watched a lot of film, and he told me the main thing to win this game was to make it easy. And you know, for me, my team makes it easy.”

The Indians didn’t have an official running play in the second half until the final play of the game. Olvera, who threw 43 times on the night, hit the quick passes and bubble screens effectively to a variety of receivers. Early in the third quarter, Olvera connected with Mullen, who had fumbled twice in the first half, on a 15-yard touchdown. A Montano 41-yard field goal gave Palm Springs a 20-17 lead after three quarters. Olvera finished with 309 yards passing on 34 completions, giving validity to the Indians’ strategy for the week.

Early in the fourth, the Indians lined up for a 23-yard field goal, but instead ran a fake and Olvera found Mullen on a 6-yard TD pass for a 27-17 lead.

Tayler Hawkins high steps out of a tackle as Palm Springs plays Oak Hills in their CIF semifinal football game at Palm Springs High. The Indians won 27-23.

Tayler Hawkins high steps out of a tackle as Palm Springs plays Oak Hills in their CIF semifinal football game at Palm Springs High. The Indians won 27-23.

Oak Hills, who had two touchdowns from Dezhontay Fletcher of 80 and 8 yards in the first half, again found the end zone midway through the fourth quarter on a 2-yard run by Terrell Fletcher. The Indians were forced to punt after picking up just one first down on their next drive, setting up a potential winning drive by Oak Hills. But Mullen’s interception let the Indians run out the clock.

“The first and second quarters I fumbled, and my team picked me up,” Mullen said. “They helped me out a lot. I knew I had to make some plays in the second half.”

Ray Mullen points skyward after scoring as Palm Springs beat Oak Hills on Friday.

Ray Mullen points skyward after scoring as Palm Springs beat Oak Hills on Friday.

Murphy said the path to a title won’t be any easier against Serrano.

“They are very disciplined. They are physical up front,” Murphy said of Serrano. “They have some weapons obviously, and we have to go up there where the conditions are going to be a lot colder than what the kids are used to. But they are excited to return 10 years later from our first CIF final.”

NEXT WEEK

What: CIF-SS Eastern Division Championship game

Who: Palm Springs vs. Serrano

Where: Serrano High School via coin flip

When: Friday at 7 or 7:30 p.m.

Not the first time: This will be the third time Palm Springs and Serrano have met for a CIF title. Palm Springs won 24-14 in 2009, and Serrano won 25-18 in 2004.

Palm Springs 27, Oak Hills 23

Oak Hills

7

10

0

6

23

Palm Springs

10

0

10

7

27

FIRST QUARTER

PS – Tayler Hawkins 97 kickoff return (Brandon Montana kick)

PS – Montano 28 field goal

OH – Dezhontay Fletcher 80 run (Bradley Kaufer kick)

SECOND QUARTER

OH — Kaufer 43 field goal

OH – Fletcher 8 run (Kaufer kick)

THIRD QUARTER

PS – Ray Mullen 155 pass from William Olvera (Montano kick)

PS – Montano 41 field goal

FOURTH QUARTER

PS – Mullen 6 pass from Olvera (Montano kick)

OH – Terrell Robertson 2 run (kick blocked)

STATISTICS

RUSHING: Oak Hills – Dezhontay Fletcher 18-175, Gino Mastandrea 5-37, Christian Naverete 1-13, Terrell Robertson 1-2, Nolan Brammer 5-1minus 11. Palm Springs – Franklin Miller 1-5, Israel Gumero 2-1, Joshua Barlow 1-1, Will Olvera 6-minus 6, Riley Hagar 1-minus 8

PASSING: Oak Hills – Nolan Brammer 13-23-1-172. Palm Springs – Will Olvera 34-43-0-309.

RECEIVING: Oak Hills — Jeremiah Lorick 5-66, Christian Navarete 4-55, Gino Mastandrea 2-33, Dezhontay Fletcher 1-13, Jordan Lewis Green 1-5. Palm Springs – Ray Mullen 12-130, Tayler Hawkins 6-100, Riley Hagar 8-61, Franklin Miller 6-16, Israel Gumero 2-2.

Players celebrate after Palm Springs defeated Oak Hills in their CIF semifinal football game at Palm Springs High. The Indians won 27-23.

Players celebrate after Palm Springs defeated Oak Hills in their CIF semifinal football game at Palm Springs High. The Indians won 27-23.

A long pass intended for Tayler Hawkins is broken up as Palm Springs plays Oak Hills in their CIF semifinal football game at Palm Springs High. The Indians won 27-23.

A long pass intended for Tayler Hawkins is broken up as Palm Springs plays Oak Hills in their CIF semifinal football game at Palm Springs High. The Indians won 27-23.

QB Will Olvera runs out the game clock as Palm Springs plays Oak Hills in their CIF semifinal football game at Palm Springs High. The Indians won 27-23, and will play at Serrano for the Eastern Division title on Friday. Michael Snyder/The Desert Sun

QB Will Olvera runs out the game clock as Palm Springs plays Oak Hills in their CIF semifinal football game at Palm Springs High. The Indians won 27-23, and will play at Serrano for the Eastern Division title on Friday. Michael Snyder/The Desert Sun

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