Not everything went well for the palm Desert Aztecs Friday night, but head coach Pat Blackburn’s team did enough right to cruise into the CIF-Southern Section playoffs.
Despite four turnovers in the first half, the Aztecs used a punishing running game to beat the Coachella Valley Arabs 38-0 in a Desert Valley league game at Coachella Valley Friday. The win clinched a playoff berth for Palm Desert.
While the Aztecs (4-1, 5-4) rushed for 457 yards against Coachella Valley (2-3, 4-5) and scored all five of their touchdowns on the ground, Blackburn said his team’s defense has had key improvements in the last few weeks.
“Our defense is playing outstanding,” Blackburn said. “The last thing I expected tonight was for us to shut down that (Coachella Valley) offense. The defense is keeping us in the games. Even against Palm Springs, our defense played well enough to win.”
Palm Desert did allowe Coachella Valley to pass for 210 yards on the night, but Arabs quarterback Darius Hulsey threw the ball 55 times, completing 23 with one late interception. Coachella Valley’s rushing game struggled against the charging Palm Desert defense, gaining just 46 yards on 17 carries including two sacks of Hulsey.
Offensively, Palm Desert used the dual punch of Beau Berryhill and Tristan Sinkinson in rolling up the yards. Berryhill gained 294 yards on 31 carries and scored two touchdowns. The senior also had a 63-yard scoring run wiped out by a holding penalty. Berryhill carried the ball on all seven plays of the Aztecs’ first scoring drive of 65 yards, including a 5-yard touchdown run. In the fourth quarter Berryhill broke loose on a 35-yard run.
Tristan Sinkinson added 167 yards on 15 carries but scored three touchdowns on runs of 5, 40 and 66 yards. The 66-yard score came on Palm Desert’s first drive of the third quarter and put the Aztecs up 28-0.
“We kind of got off to a rough start but started getting it going and finally got things together,” Sinkinson said.
That rough start included two lost fumbles in the first quarter with Palm Desert up 7-0 and a pair of interceptions by Coachella Valley in the second quarter, one by lineman Miguel Navarrette when Palm Desert quarterback Brian Devlin was hit as he was throwing and had the ball simply pop up into the air.
Despite those turnovers, Palm Desert led 21-0 at the half, and Sinkinson’s 66-yard touchdown run in the third quarter all but ended the game.
“That was toss left,” Sinkinson said. “Pretty much just saw and opening and ran with it and did what I can do.”
Sinkinson agreed with Blackburn that the Aztecs are getting a little better every week.
“We’re just trying to connect more, and when we come up against another team we execute and do really well.”
About the only problem Blackburn could really see with his team was that attempts at play-action passes usually ended up with Coachella Valley getting strong pressure on Devlin.
The win allowed Palm Desert to clinch no worse than a tie for second in the Desert Valley League to secure a playoff spot. For Coachella Valley, the team can’t earn an automatic CIF-SS playoff berth and would need to rely on a wild-card bid to make the playoff bracket.
With the playoffs secure, Palm Desert has one last DVL game to play next week against Xavier Prep, which beat palm Desert in overtime last year. The Arabs will be on the road for their final game of league play against long-time rival Indio in the Bell Game.