It was a game with an all-too-familiar feeling and an all-too-familiar end for the Desert Chapel Eagles.
Playing for a CIF-Southern Section Division II eight-man football championship, the Eagles couldn’t figure out how to stay close to the Joshua Springs Lightning.
“I’m proud of what these guys have done,” Desert Chapel head coach Jim Donaldson said after his team fell 72-6 to Joshua Springs in Palm Springs Saturday night. “To come this far and do this, we ought to hold our heads high. You lose a game, you made it to the championship. It doesn’t matter what the score was.”
The Eagles were hoping to win their fourth CIF-SS eight-man title, or at least put together a more competitive performance than the team’s 90-8 regular-season loss to Joshua Springs. Neither of those things happened. Instead, Joshua Springs, from Yucca Valley, recovered from a slow start that saw the Lightning ahead just 8-0 nearing the end of the first quarter to take a 46-0 halftime lead. With two touchdowns in the first 3:29 of the third quarter, the game was essentially over.
It is Joshua Springs’ sixth CIF-SS eight-man title in the last seven years. Two years ago Joshua Springs lost in the eight-man championship or the streak would be seven straight titles.
Desert Chapel did manage to break the shutout with 4:08 left in the game on a nine-yard scoring pass from quarterback Kaleb Whan to James Cain. But it was still Desert Chapel and Donaldson accepting the runner-up plaque at midfield after the game.
“We’re definitely disappointed,” Donaldson said. “But the one thing I’m proud of these guys, through the year, unity, team, character. That’s how it is in life. Sometimes things don’t turn out.”
The teams played a tough first quarter, with Desert Chapel chewing up time on its first drive. But a punt was followed by an 11-play, 61-yard scoring drive by Joshua Springs, capped by an eight-yard run by Dylan Green.
Green broke free on a 40-yard touchdown run on the final play of the first quarter for a 16-0 Joshua Springs lead. On Desert Chapel’s first play on the ensuing drive, Ethan Skarmas broke free on a 60-yard run to the Joshua Springs 5. But four running plays couldn’t get the Eagles into the end zone. Joshua Springs then turned bad field position into a five-play, 75-yard scoring drive with Green scoring his third touchdown on a 12-yard run, and the tone for the game was set.
Green added a fourth score in the half on a 24-yard run, part of a 173-yard rushing half. Two more Lightning touchdowns, one set up by an interception, pushed Joshua Springs to the 46-0 halftime lead, slightly ahead of the pace that produced that 90-8 regular-season score.
“This year the way it matched up, it didn’t match up well for us,” Donaldson said of the two games against Joshua Springs. “It showed. Unfortunately it just turned out not the way we wanted.”
Donaldson said the Eagles did make some adjustments from the previous meeting with Joshua Springs, but nothing seemed to work offensively against the stout pressure the Lightning put on Whan whenever he tried to pass.
In the end, Desert Chapel managed 210 total yards on offense, but about half of that came on Skarmas’ 60-yard run and a 43-yard pass from Whan to Josh Donaldson that helped set-up the fourth-quarter touchdown. Skarmas ended the night with 122 yards rushing on 23 carries, while Whan managed 95 yards pass with two interceptions—one returned for a touchdown.
Green led Joshua Springs with 247 yards on 32 carries while scoring six touchdowns. The Lightning also had 115 yards passing from Joey Hagerman, who ran for one score, threw for a score and ran an interception back 37 yards for a score.
“Our guys fought to the end. I’m proud of them for that,” Donaldson said. “I’m proud of them for the whole season. It takes a lot to get here. They are a great team, great guys.”