A home crowd of more than 200 sat stunned silent as the sun set behind the football stadium at Ontario Christian High School on Wednesday evening. The only noise could be heard down on the field, where the Desert Mirage Rams celebrated their fifth goal in 13 minutes.
Rams head coach Peter Zamora said last week that almost any coach could have at least some level of success with a group as talented as his.
And for those 13 minutes, Zamora took a rare seat on the bench, where he marveled at the onslaught that had unfolded as Desert Mirage scored six goals in the second half to bury Ontario Christian, 8-0, in the second round of the Division 7 California Interscholastic Federation playoffs.
“I asked my team, ‘Do you hear that?’ ” Zamora said. “They said, ‘I don’t hear anything.’ I told them that was exactly what I wanted to hear.”
The Rams now sit at 20-0 and are just three games away from winning a third CIF title and completing a perfect season, which would be the first at the school and in the Coachella Valley in at least the last 15 years.
It took the Rams 22 minutes to get on the scoreboard, but players later said that one goal by Julio Rivera relieved the pressure and the rest of the game was played carefree.
Just before halftime, Fred Zaragoza split a pair of defenders on a breakaway and fired the ball past the Knights goalkeeper that provided a comfortable 2-0 lead at the intermission.
“We were nervous in the first half,” senior forward Ramses Mora said. “After those first two goals, the pressure was off. We could just play.”
The second half is when the Rams blew the game wide open. Zaragoza scored his second goal five minutes into the half, and Mora scored the first of his three in the half just a minute later.
Cristian Galarza then scored on a penalty kick three minutes after Mora to make it 5-0 in the 49th minute.
The next two goals may have been the most impressive. Rivera outran three defenders and fired the ball into the net from 20 yards out. Moments later, Mora struck again, slicing past multiple defenders before faking out the Ontario Christian goalie, which led to an easy score.
Mora then scored his third goal in the 64th minute as Zamora began emptying his bench.
“After the fifth goal, I was just admiring our soccer,” Rivera said. “I couldn’t believe that we scored so many goals so quickly. It was kind of unbelievable.”
Ontario Christian (15-8-2) was no pushover this season. The Knights finished second in the Ambassador League, and had won seven of nine games entering Wednesday’s playoff contest. They had only allowed more than four goals once, and had scored at least four on six different occasions this season.
Yet just minutes into the second half, the Knights looked anything but that team.
Frustrated, two Ontario Christian players collected yellow cards while others sat, along with the crowd, in silence. Some players on the bench had their face in their palms. Others stared despondently at the ground as the 30-something Desert Mirage fans who made the two-hour trip celebrated in the background.
“They are a quality opponent,” Zamora said. “But with our size, our speed, it’s a lot to handle for any high school team. And they are really starting to believe in themselves.”
As the final moments ticked away, Ontario Christian players consoled each other while at least one Knights fan in the bleachers looked up Desert Mirage on his phone, attempting to find out more about the team that had dismantled his.
One thing he may have found about Desert Mirage is that the school won its first CIF title in 2008. Four years later, the Rams won another. Following that trend of every four years, it appears Desert Mirage is due for another this year.
But no player on this team has tasted a championship victory, and despite Wednesday’s result, Zamora and his players say they will not be satisfied until they win three more games.
Those three games mean the difference between a perfect season and one that will leave lingering questions about what could have been.
“We’re a good team,” Zamora reminded his team after the game. “But we’re not going to be happy until we reach our goal.”