After winning back-to-back Desert Valley League titles over the last two years, then starting the 2015 season with five consecutive losses, the easy conclusion was that this was a down year for Dan Armstrong’s squad at La Quinta High School. A rebuilding year, some have called it.
But while that may indeed be the case, the Blackhawks aren’t playing as if their season is lost, or as though there’s not a chance to win a third consecutive league title, and perhaps even make a run in next month’s CIF-SS postseason. They haven’t bought into those doom-and-gloom persuasions.
The latest evidence was Friday’s 35-0 domination of Cathedral City in which the Blackhawks allowed the Lions just 23 yards of total offense and five different players scored in the second lopsided victory in as many weeks for a team many had left for dead after a loss to rival Palm Desert on Sept. 25.
“The last two and and a half games, our defense is playing really well,” La Quinta assistant coach Bill Gadds said. “We’re not getting a lot of turnovers, but we’re running to the ball and playing smart.”
Friday’s game was the latest installment of the DVL rivalry that was split each of the last two years. In 2013, Cathedral City shocked La Quinta, the eventual league co-champions, 35-14. Last year, the Blackhawks avenged the loss with an 84-28 beatdown.
On Friday, freshman tailback Derrick Kennedy looked like the next man up following in a long line of great runners at La Quinta, rushing for 113 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Ricky Vargas finished with 90 yards and a score, and receiver Justin Anderson was all over the field on receptions and kick returns. The Blackhawks showed they do indeed have a reliable offense, which was at one time in question.
Still, it was the defense that set the tone. It helped that Cathedral City’s top playmaker, quarterback Cameron Lee, missed the game after suffering a concussion last week against Xavier Prep. That forced sophomore Timothy Miller into action, and Lee’s absence allowed La Quinta to focus on tailback Jordan Wallace, the Lions’ only other proven threat.
With the interior defensive line clogging up the middle, La Quinta’s outside linebackers crashed the outside, forcing Cathedral City into 11 plays of negative yardage. Beji Cordova finished with a dozen tackles and a sack and linemen Michael Garrett (2 sacks) and Robbie Polimeni (1.5 sacks) kept Miller off balance and unable to make players from the pocket.
“The plan was to stop the sweep to the outside and force their guys inside,” Cordova said. “We did that well tonight.”
With La Quinta allowing Palm Desert just three points in the second half two weeks ago, and six points overall in its last two games, the Blackhawks are playing with some swagger for the first time this season. They’ll need that playing against Palm Springs, the unbeaten defending Eastern Division champions, next week.
“It’s a tough test,” Gadds said, “but we’ll prepare and come ready to play.”
Regardless of the outcome, down year or not, the Blackhawks still have a lot left to play for.
La Quinta head coach Dan Armstrong missed the game after having back surgery, and defensive coach Bill Gadds filled in admirably. He was conservative on offense and produced the right scheme defensively. And, like Armstrong, he’s not planning to back down this week against Palm Springs.
Brian Mello, who seemingly always comes ready to play, made a number of big catches on offense, was a big part of that dominating defense, and even made a few cringe-worthy blocks that opened up big runs.
La Quinta 35, Cathedral City 0
La Quinta (2-5)
Cathedral City (0-7)
(LQ): Derrick Kennedy 1-yard run (Paden Duncan kick)
(LQ): Kennedy 60-yard run (Duncan kick)
(LQ): Ricky Vargas 9-yard run (Duncan kick)
(LQ): Andres Sanchez 5-yard run (Duncan kick)
(LQ): Justin Anderson 40-yard pass from Andrew Garcia (Duncan kick)
RUSHING (Carries-Yards-TDs) LQ: Derrick Kennedy 13-113-2, Ricky Vargas 13-90-1, Andrew Garcia 5-7, Brian Mello 2-6, Andres Sachez 7-29-1. CC: Jordan Wallace 18-30, Timothy Miller 11-(minus 23), Ivan Hernandez 1-14. PASSING (Comp-Att-TDs-INTs-Yards) LQ: Andrew Garcia 8-18-1-1-156. CC: Timothy Miller 2-10-0-0-2, Jordan Wallace 0-2-0-0-0. RECEIVING (Rec-Yards-TDs) LQ: Justin Anderson 3-83-1, Brian Mello 3-48, Josh Cabrera 2-25. CC: Isaiah Ross 1-7, Jordan Wallace 1-(minus 5).