Hard to believe, but it’s already the midseason point of the high school football season.
Most teams have played five of their 10 regular-season games, so it’s a good time to take stock of the desert’s 13 high school football squads.
Some have been better than expected, some a little worse, and some, well … to borrow a phrase from legendary football coach Dennis Green “They are who we thought they were.”
So keep in mind this isn’t a simple list of who has been good so far and who has been bad, it’s more about how teams have performed in relation to their preseason expectations. Remember, too, that often a team’s expectations are higher for themselves than those of the football-watching community at large. Anyway, no more caveats, let’s dive in.
Coachella Valley: The Arabs, sitting at 4-1, have the most explosive offense in the valley and sent notice to desert fans by beating Palm Desert for the first time since 1999. Junior quarterback Armando Deniz was an unknown commodity heading into the varsity season, but now, let’s just say he’s known. Deniz has four 300-plus-yard passing games in five weeks to easily be the top passer in the valley. Running back Romeo Martinez is the top rusher in the valley, too. They are ranked No. 8 in the Division 11 poll (their drop from No. 1 to No. 8 this week was too harsh in this reporter’s opinion) and begin their first season in De Anza League play next week with a biggie against league favorite Rancho Mirage.
READ MORE: Deniz a breakthrough performer
Shadow Hills: The other half of the old De Anza-DVL switcheroo with Coachella Valley is also off to a fine start at 4-1. The secret to success for the Knights this year is their ability to win close games. It had been Shadow Hills’ bugaboo in recent years, often falling short in close games. But not this year. A two-point opening-game win at Hemet and holding on for a six-point win in their Desert Valley League debut at Cathedral City last week are good examples. Lose those two and you’re sitting there with a frustrating 2-3 record. Instead it’s 4-1 with more winnable games ahead.
Xavier Prep: The Saints have a 3-2 record and it was a victory at Twentynine Palms that alerted desert football fans that Xavier Prep would be no pushover this year. They reaffirmed that with a victory over Palm Desert in the DVL opener, a team that beat them 41-7 last year. The Saints have a versatile offense and a hard-hitting defense. It would not surprise me to see the Saints finish second or third in the DVL and that would almost certainly come with a playoff bid in Division 11.
Indio: This may seem like a weird one with the Rajahs sitting on a 1-4 record, but a closer look shows that Indio has had a much better first half than many expected. Coming off a 1-9 season, Indio opened the season with a thorough defeat of Desert Mirage, the Rajahs’ first win against a team from the desert since 2011. Lopsided losses to Twentynine Palms and Yucca Valley followed, but it was the Bell Game that really opened eyes. The Rajahs hung right with the explosive Arabs in their rivalry game, losing 34-27. Then followed that up by putting up a tough fight against Palm Springs, a team that has beaten them by an average score of 52-7 over the past five years. The game was tied at the half before the Indians won 21-7. So all in all, the Rajahs have proven to be a much tougher outfit than I imagined.
La Quinta: I believed that the Blackhawks were the best team in the desert before the season and I still do, even though they have a 1-3 record. All four of their games are against teams currently ranked in their respective divisions, so this has been a typically tough slate for the Blackhawks. La Quinta picked up a nice win over Rancho Mirage at home and was in position for a great road win last week at Roosevelt before letting it slip through their fingers in overtime. Look for the Blackhawks to take care of business in the DVL and then use the grit they developed during a tough non-league schedule for a playoff push.
Rancho Mirage: The Rattlers are cruising along nicely on the season, as expected, with a 3-1 record, including convincing wins over Shadow Hills and Palm Desert. A versatile offense and a stingy front seven make the Rattlers, ranked No. 3 in Division 12, the favorite to sweep through league play. They open De Anza play by hosting Coachella Valley on Oct. 7 and have to not overlook sneaky-good Yucca Valley along the way, but the Rattlers are right in position to achieve their goals.
Palm Springs: It was difficult to predict what the Indians would have to offer after losing many of their top skill position players, but entering Week 6 with a 3-2 record (their season-opening loss was reversed due to Redlands using an ineligible player) isn’t a horrible position for them. Remember, though, the Indians are in Division 4, so if they don’t win the DVL outright they may be in trouble as far as making the postseason. Second-place in the DVL isn’t an automatic playoff bid anymore. They have a huge one this week at home against La Quinta.
READ MORE: Dotson driving the Indians
Desert Mirage: The Rams are struggling. We expected they might have trouble moving the ball after losing most of their running attack to graduation and that has proven true. In five games they’ve been shut out four times, but coach Jeff Tebelak and the players haven’t stopped working hard, and as the season progresses look for them to put some points on the board, but to pull out a win against a deep and tough De Anza League slate will be difficult.
Desert Chapel: The Eagles are 1-3 after losing some key players. They have a nice win over Cornerstone Christian, but with Joshua Springs and Desert Christian Academy looming in league play, it will be interesting to see if the Eagles can work their way into playoff contention. Don’t count them out.
Cathedral City: The Lions have a 1-4 record, which is not where they wanted to be, but they do have a good excuse. Dynamic quarterback Cameron Lee has missed almost the entire season with a nagging turf toe. He returned last week for a few plays, so he may be close to coming back 100 percent. The Lions have shown life recently, winning two weeks ago, and charging back to almost pull one out against Shadow Hills last week. Look for the Lions to find more wins in the second half than they have so far.
Palm Desert: With 21 of 22 starters graduating, it was tough to know what to make of the Aztecs, but most were expecting a better record than 1-4, especially after a season-opening win. It’s been a tumultuous start to the season for new coach Shane McComb, including the exodus of opening-day starting QB Matthew Fitzgerald, but last Friday the Aztecs pushed a good Xavier Prep team and their narrow loss to Coachella Valley looks better by the week. We’ll see if a drama-free second-half of the season leads to more wins.
Desert Hot Springs: True, the Golden Eagles entered the season without returning QB Andrew Moreno, but coach Will Littell felt like the team had some skill position players to make some noise. Injuries to key players have hurt the Golden Eagles, who have been in several close games, but an 0-5 record is not where they thought they’d be at this point.
Desert Christian Academy: The Conquerors seemed poised for a fantastic season, heading into the year with several returning players from a semifinal team last year, but have stumbled out of the gate. League success and a playoff run are still possibilities, but even with a tough preseason slate, I don’t think they expected to be 1-3 at this point.
Shad Powers is sports columnist for The Desert Sun. Reach him at (760) 778-4627 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter (@shad_powers), Instagram (@shadp40), or on Facebook.
FRIDAY NIGHT HERO
THIS WEEK’S WINNER: Mason Sarna of Xavier Prep. You voted on Instagram and chose the Saints talented two-way player who scored on offense and defense in a win against Palm Desert as this week’s Friday Night Hero. Follow @desertsun on Instagram to vote each week.
THIS WEEK’S GAMES
(All games at 7 p.m. unless otherwise noted)
Xavier Prep at Cathedral City
La Quinta at Palm Springs
Palm Desert at Shadow Hills
Rancho Mirage at San Jacinto
Desert Chapel at Bloomington Christian
Joshua Springs at Palm Valley
Saturday: Desert Christian Academy at Orcutt Academy (4 p.m.)
Bye weeks: Coachella Valley, DHS, Desert Mirage, Indio