Football games aren’t always won by the team making the most big plays. Sometimes, the winner simply makes fewer mistakes.
That was the case Friday night at Desert Hot Springs, as the Golden Eagles (6-3, 3-2) snapped a two-game De Anza League losing streak with a 53-14 win over Big Bear (4-5, 1-4). Desert Hot Springs took a 34-7 halftime lead by scoring touchdowns running and passing, while the defense contributed two touchdown returns, one from a fumble and another off an interception.
The interception came with less than a minute to play in the first half and the visitors trailing 27-7. Quarterback Ryan Griffiths stepped back to pass for the first time in the half, only to have his flat pass picked off by Golden Eagles’ cornerback Jordon Walker, who returned the interception 38 yards for Desert Hot Springs’ final touchdown of the half.
The interception return was the second defensive score of the half, as two more Big Bear turnovers led to two Desert Hot Springs touchdowns. The first turnover of the night came when Big Bear lost a fumble late in the first quarter with while leading, 7-6. The Eagles promptly took the quick change in possession in for the go-ahead score, going 52 yards in nine plays. Quarterback Andrew Moreno snuck in from two yards out with 9:52 to play in the first half to give the Golden Eagles a 13-7 lead, a lead they never relinquished.
The Bears were made to pay immediately for their next turnover, as a fumble popped up in the air at the Desert Hot Springs’ 38 and into the hands of Eagles’ defensive back Sirvon Campbell, who returned the fumble 62 yards for a score. The extra point gave Desert Hot Springs a 27-7 lead with 1:26 to play in the first half, setting up Walker’s interception return on the next possession. Campbell also picked off a Griffiths pass late in the fourth quarter.
Not that the Eagles didn’t register their share of big plays. Trailing 7-0, Desert Hot Springs got on the board initially with a 70-yard run off-tackle by Markese Denmon, who finished the half with 134 yards rushing on nine carries. The extra-point was blocked, and the Eagles trailed by a point with 3:29 to play in the first quarter. Denmon finished the night with 238 yards on 17 carries, with three rushing touchdowns.
The Eagles cashed in for a score on another big play, a 30-yard pass from Moreno to wide receiver Jahi Martindale, who came down with the ball just inside the goal-line pylon. That touchdown gave the Eagles a 20-7 lead with less than four minutes to play in the first half.
“The defense stepped up, and I’ll tell you what Markese had a big night too,” said Desert Hot Springs coach Will Littell. “He was impressive. He had way over 200 yards, and I can live with that.”
Big Bear made a fist with the first possession of the second half, moving 69 yards in seven plays with running back Riley Ardigo going in from three yards out to cut the lead to 34-14 with just under three minutes played in the second half. But the Eagles reassumed control on the very next possession with a 10-play drive consuming over five minutes, capped by a four-yard Denmon touchdown run that made the score 41-14 with 3:38 to play in the third quarter.
Desert Hot Springs’ added fourth quarter touchdowns from running back Solmon Patrick, who rushed for 44 yards on eight carries, scored from 25 yards out, and Denmon added his third rushing touchdown of the night from 25 yards out with 3:03 to play, giving the Eagles their final margin of victory.
STAR OF THE GAME
Markese Denmon, running back, Desert Hot Springs: Denmon appropriately scored the last touchdown of the game to inflate the final score and his rushing numbers; the 25-yard touchdown run gave hime 238 yards rushing on the night with three touchdowns, including runs of 70, 23, 26, 24, and 25 yards.
JUST THE FACTS
Friday’s first half was played in 1:02 despite an 11-minute injury delay, as both teams kept the ball on the ground. DHS only attempted three passes, while Big Bear dropped back to pass only once and was intercepted…There were three significant delays in the game for injuries to Big Bear players, the most serious of which appeared to be a lower leg injury to lineman Brian Hannan, who was fitted with an air cast on the field. The attention he received required a 30-minute stoppage…The Bears operated from under center exclusively in the first half….Desert Hot Springs’ defense stopped Big Bear three times on fourth-and-short situations…Big Bear fumbled four times and lost two, with one returned for a touchdown, while Desert Hot Springs fumbled three times and retained each one…There were only three punts in the game, and only one in the first half…Big Bear was only penalized twice for 20 yards, while Desert Hot Springs had seven penalties for 85 yards.
Big Bear (4-5, 1-4) is on the road at Desert Mirage (3-6, 0-5), while Desert Hot Springs (6-3, 3-2) hosts Shadow Hills (4-5, 3-2).