Deconstructing the De Anza: football league play begins

Deconstructing the De Anza: football league play begins

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Deconstructing the De Anza: football league play begins

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Shadow Hills quarterback Jason Lang throws the ball during the first half against Cathedral City High School on Friday.

Shadow Hills quarterback Jason Lang throws the ball during the first half against Cathedral City High School on Friday.

Rancho Mirage quarterback Marques Prior carries the ball for a first down in the first against Cathedral City of Friday.

Rancho Mirage quarterback Marques Prior carries the ball for a first down in the first against Cathedral City of Friday.

Coachella Valley’s Willy Ortiz (8) is tackled by two Rams defenders during the annual Date Bowl matchup in Thermal on Friday.

Coachella Valley’s Willy Ortiz (8) is tackled by two Rams defenders during the annual Date Bowl matchup in Thermal on Friday.

As league play begins this week for the desert’s two high school football leagues — the Desert Valley League and the De Anza League — we are facing two very different races.

The DVL feels like it could be pretty predictable. Of course, it is sports and anything could happen, but the league feels pretty top-heavy with Palm Springs, Palm Desert and La Quinta the presumptive favorites again, while Coachella Valley looks to be the team with the best chance to emerge as a playoff contender among the remaining four teams.

That’s why most of the intrigue this year is in the De Anza League.

Five of the seven teams are either 3-1 or 3-0, and that doesn’t include the defending champions from Shadow Hills. So it feels like a seven-team horse race with six of the horses having a legitimate chance to win. The one team that likely will have an uphill climb is Yucca Valley who is 2-2, but has not had a win against the caliber of teams they’ll face in league play.

So with that in mind, let’s look at the six horses in this difficult-to-handicap De Anza race. I’m putting them in reverse order of the way I’m guessing it plays out. And there is a lot of guesswork.

Desert Hot Springs

High school football power rankings: week four

Predicted finish: Sixth place with league record of 1-5

Positives: The Golden Eagles have shown a knack for winning close games, opening the season with three straight wins, all of the narrow variety. Quarterback Andrew Moreno is calm in those high-pressure situations, and can make plays with his legs as well as his arm. Also their run defense can be stout, which will come in handy against certain league foes, such as this week’s game at Desert Mirage.

Negatives: The teams they’ve beaten to open their season — Cathedral City, Coachella Valley and Banning — have not distinguished themselves so far. Also, the schedule is odd with their first three league games on the road, and their last three at home. I expect them to win at Yucca Valley, but an above-.500 league mark will be a tough task.

Desert Mirage

Predicted finish: Tie for fourth, 3-3

Positives: The versatile running game with bruiser Jesus Angel and speedster Melvin Harmon has been a difficult combination for teams to handle this year. The defense has shown an ability to create turnovers, and there is just an overall confidence in Rams Country that hasn’t been there before.

Negatives: The Rams all-run, no-pass attack works well if they get the lead, but makes it difficult to come back from a deficit, as they showed last week in their first loss of the season to a Coachella Valley team that took the lead and never gave it back. The Arabs also exposed a possible weakness in stopping the pass, though not many De Anza League teams have air-it-out attacks.

Twentynine Palms

Predicted finish: Tie for fourth, 3-3

Positives: The Wildcats have the best passing QB in the league in senior signal caller Jimmy Shragge. In three games, all lopsided wins, Shragge already has 11 touchdown passes and equally impressive, no interceptions. Most De Anza defenses are more comfortable stopping the run, so a prolific passing attack will be a cross-up for most teams.

Negatives: The opening schedule was so weak, that it’s hard to get any sort of gauge on how good the Wildcats are. Those questions will be answered right away as they host Rancho Mirage and Shadow Hills in their first two league games. How the Wildcats handle games against teams of equal caliber remains to be seen. But this team can win the league.

Big Bear

Predicted finish: Third, 4-2

Positives: The well-coached 3-1 Bears have a history of success on their side, and also the schedule is helpful in that they have home games against all three presumptive top teams in the league.

Negatives: Similar to Desert Mirage in that the attack is so run-heavy, that it’s not made for coming from behind. Also they haven’t been in any close games yet, three blowout wins and a blowout loss, so how will junior QB Ryan Griffiths handle a pressure situation remains to be seen.

Rancho Mirage

Rancho Mirage dominates Tahquitz, ready for next step

Predicted finish: Tied for first, 5-1

Positives: Now armed with seniors, the swarming Rancho Mirage defense has been impressive. All 11 guys seem to end up around the ball on every play, and they’ve shut down passing attacks and running attacks alike. Their only loss, a 14-7 road game to a ranked Rubidoux team, was a good learning experience as well. The offense is versatile, too, with QB Marques Prior able to run it and pass it to a talented stable of skill position players. Also the Rattlers have the element of surprise. Teams that beat them soundly last year will be caught off guard by what they see this year. Ask Tahquitz, who beat the Rattlers 42-7 last year, and lost to the Rattlers 45-14 last week.

Negatives: The league schedule isn’t very kind to the Rattlers with its three road games — at Twentynine Palms, Big Bear and Shadow Hills — all toughies. If they can figure out a way to win two of those three, they will be in it for the long haul.

Shadow Hills

Predicted finish: Tied for first, 5-1

Positives: The Knights are much better than their 1-3 record indicates. The whole world saw on SportsCenter how they lost one of their games on a 59-yard field goal, and another loss came when a home game was forced to be played on the road. They had a confidence-building 50-0 rout of Cathedral City last week and still have the best individual talent in the league in Tony Williams Jr. at running back. Oh and the swagger that comes with being the undefeated defending champs.

Negatives: How will the quarterback situation shake out. J.D. Lang has not played poorly to start the season, but transfer Seth Morales from Indio will be eligible beginning Oct. 9. Will he be used and in what fashion. Taking teams for granted could be an issue, too, as the Knights’ margin of victory in league games last year was 49, 41, 40, 14, 50 and 38.

In this scenario, certainly a lot will come down to an Oct. 30 game between Rancho Mirage and Shadow Hills. That will take place on the Knights’ home field (unless it gets moved to Perris for some reason). Whoever wins that game will get the top seed.

So there you have it, one man’s guess on how the evenly matched De Anza League will play out. And evenly matched in a good way.

For the record, in 10 non-league games pitting the DVL and De Anza League, the De Anza League went 7-3. The asterisk, of course, being that none of those seven wins came against the DVL’s big three. But still that shows the depth of solid teams in the De Anza League this year.

It should be fun to watch, whichever horse you’re backing.

Shad Powers is sports columnist for The Desert Sun. Reach him at (760) 778-4627 or shad.powers@desertsun.com. Follow him on Twitter at @shad_powers.

THIS WEEK’S GAMES

Friday’s games (7 p.m.)

Palm Desert at La Quinta

Cathedral City at Coachella Valley

Indio at Xavier Prep

Desert Hot Springs at Desert Mirage

Rancho Mirage at 29Palms

Rock Academy at Desert Chapel

Desert Christian Academy at Lucerne Valley

Saturday’s game

Palm Valley at Calvary Baptist, 10:30 a.m.

COMING TOMORROW

Rivalry game: A closer look at the Palm Desert-La Quinta rivalry and the chase for the Victory Flag.

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