Losing arguably their most electric player certainly wasn’t what the Palm Springs football team wanted, but Friday the team responded with another rough, gut-check performance rooted from its most focused week of practice yet.
And that, at least, couldn’t have come at a better time.
Missing senior stud athlete Franklin Miller, who was lost last week to an ACL tear, the Indians took to the road and pulled off it’s second-straight victory over a top-three Desert Valley League opponent in a 24-3 defeat of Palm Desert in essentially this year’s DVL championship game.
“We dedicated this one to Franklin,” senior wideout Tayler Hawkins said after the win. “He is like family, and we wanted to dedicate this one for him…It means a lot.”
Hawkins, more than anyone, put his heart and soul into Friday’s victory, grabbing nine passes for 137 yards and a touchdown, including two key plays in the opening moments of Friday’s game that set the tone for his Indians squad.
The Aztecs received the kickoff and put on a show driving down the field on the shoestrings of Beau Berryhill’s rushing attack before Hawkins picked off a Matthew Fitzgerald pass over the middle to quell an Aztec scoring opportunity.
Then, with his team forced into the punt formation early in its own first drive, Hawkins had the vision to put his feet to the test and beat several Palm Desert defenders to the first down marker, sprinting down the sidelines for a 23-yard gain around midfield. He would score on a 20-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Will Olvera just a few plays later.
In the end, it would be all the points the Indians would need, and they couldn’t have done it without Hawkins.
But the pesky, senior-laden Aztecs would hang around for quite a while. Palm Springs head coach Dan Murphy knew his offense would have its hands full with the Aztecs defensive front seven all night, in part because Murphy coached with Palm Desert head coach Pat Blackburn for three seasons in Murphy’s first-ever coaching job.
“He’s one of the greatest defensive minds, and I knew he was going to put them in situations to be able to give us fits,” Murphy said. “They have some really solid players on defense and took us out of our comfort zone a lot like Xavier Prep did a few weeks ago.”
Twice in the first half, Aztec punter Brooks Stephenson pinned the Indians on their own 1-yard line after Palm Desert drives sputtered, and the defense capitalized on some dropped passes and strong secondary play, including a rare interception from Olvera grabbed by Berryhill.
Palm Desert managed to drive down within four yards of the end zone early in the second quarter and within field goal range another time, but only came away with three points.
In the end, as Blackburn switched back-and-forth between Fitzgerald and Brian Devlin under center, the Aztecs couldn’t pick up any rhythm and faded away in the second half, as they’ve often done against tough opponents this season.
For the Indians, it certainly wasn’t a pretty win, but it’s a 15th one in a row, putting them a major step closer to a DVL title.
But for Murphy and his squad, that’s only the first of several goals that lay ahead in the final month or more of this season.
“The two times Palm Springs has won a CIF championship, we weren’t DVL champions, and that would mean a lot to these kids,” Murphy said. “The only two kids that have ever won a DVL championship on this team are Will and Tayler, and that was on a controversial horse collar call. I told them ‘You’ve got to go out here and fight to win a title, and no one can say there’s any controversy if you win one outright.’ “