In a night dominated by the De Anza League across the valley, the Rancho Mirage Rattlers did their part on the road in Thermal, taking down the Coachella Valley Arabs, 26-7, in a game dominated by two of its younger stars.
Rattler quarterback Marques Prior, who gives up size and experience to most defensive players at 15-years-old and just 158 pounds, manned Rancho Mirage’s offense while going 3-for-10 for 141 yards and two touchdowns, including a bomb in the first quarter that set the pace.
“He’s only 15, but he’s grown up tremendously,” Rancho Mirage coach L.D. Matthews said. “”He made some great plays with his legs … and I’m really proud of his effort.”
On the team’s second drive of the game while facing 3rd and 23 on his team’s own 12-yard line, Prior rolled out to his left just steps outside the end zone and launched a laser to senior wideout Charles Murrell, who leaped over two defenders for the grab and sauntered into the end zone with no one in front of him.
The Arabs’ offense, led by senior quarterback Darius Hulsey, controlled the pace of the game during the first half and dominated between the 20s but could never bust it through. On three of the team’s first four drives, Hulsey led the Arabs within 30 yards of scoring and faced fourth down in an awkward position to try a field goal.
Head coach Brett Davis left the ball in his gunslinger’s hands, but the Arabs fell short each time.
After shooting themselves in the foot multiple times in the first half, the Arabs caught a big break on special teams after their first possession when Rancho Mirage’s junior running back Kyle Whitefield muffed a punt that Arab senior Chris Robles dove on to recover.
But with the change to swing the momentum, Hulsey threw his first interception of the season, caught by Murrell.
Prior turned the error into a quick score with his feet, rushing 13 yards around the right edge to take a double-digit lead.
The one bright spot of the night for the Arabs, ironically, came on a broken play on another fourth down on the Rattler 22 late in the third quarter with fourth and eight remaining. Hulsey threw a pass behind Jacob Salazar that was tipped high into the air toward the back of the end zone, before it fell into the outstretched arms of Sadiel Aranda while he lay on his back.
That’s as close as the Arabs would inch, though.
Just seconds into the fourth quarter, Hulsey was sacked for a five-yard loss on the first play of a drive for a safety, and the Rattlers returned the free kick into the red zone for an eventual field goal. Whitefield iced the game late with a rushing touchdown, and the Rattlers recovered an onside kick as Arab fans swiftly exited the stadium stunned by a week one loss.
Whitefield, a transfer to Rancho Mirage in his first season with the program, really impressed Matthews in his first game in the valley, especially with how he recovered from the muffed punt.
“He was really down on himself, and his teammates picked him up and said ‘You’re going to have an opportunity to make big plays’ and he came back late in the fourth quarter and had a couple big runs for us,” Matthews said.
Rancho Mirage 26, Coachella Valley 7
RM: Marques Prior throws an 88-yard pass to Charles Murrell for a touchdown
RM: Prior runs in from 13 yards for a touchdown
CV: Darius Hulsey completes a 22-yard pass to Sadiel Aranda for a touchdown
RM: Hulsey is sacked for a safety
RM: Daniel Whelan kicks a field goal
RM: Kyle Whitefield rushes 18 yards for a touchdown