On Nov. 22, in a relentless torrent of rain without any water wings, the Desert High School Varsity football team (Desert Mountain League Co-Champions), defeated Saddleback Valley Christian High School in a second round CIF Northeast Division playoff game, 36-20. DHS has not advanced this far since 2002.
DHS will now travel to San Luis Obispo Nov. 29 to play Mission Prep in a semifinals playoff game. If DHS wins, they will move on to the Championship game against Rio Hondo Prep in Arcadia or Salesian High School in Los Angeles. Desert has not won a CIF Championship Game since 1981. Both teams are 10-2, 2-0 Neutral and Desert is on a nine-game winning streak.
Senior running back Robby Maldonado rushed for two touch downs and a 51-yard touchdown pass from Matt Moore. The watery weather conditions did not dam up the Scorpions who took the opening kick-off and drove 80 yards through the driving rain to end with a two-yard touchdown plow by Maldonado.
Moore, without slipping in the rain, gripped the ball flawlessly and executed a play fake pass and found Maldonado streaking (with uniform on) down the field for a 51-yard touchdown pass reception. Matt was 7/13 for 112 yards and 1 passing touchdown against Saddleback in the watery game.
Moore is currently ranked third in Northeast Division XIII and first in the Desert Mountain League on MaxPreps.com. He has 2,011 yards passing, only 141 yards from leading the division.
“The ball was so wet in the second half, it was almost impossible to throw it,” DHS Coach Chris Hinton said. “But before it got really bad, we were able to connect.”
According to MaxPres.com, Chad Gleason received four key passes for first downs from Moore for 55 yards. Maldonado had three for 57 yards, one for a touchdown. Gleason and Steele are Desert Mountain League leaders in receiving, 1st and 3rd respectively. Maldonado and Escobar are 16th and 24th.
In the second quarter, Saddleback was Down 16-0, the Warriors finally got on the board via special teams with a field goal. Later, Elijah Bratton returned a punt by juke-en out two Desert defenders and picked up several blockers all the way down the sideline for a 68-yard touchdown.
In the fourth quarter, David Molina received a pass from Saddleback QB, Caleb Ward, and took it 66 yards to the end zone, putting Saddleback within eight points of catching Desert at 28-20. This was their last big play before Desert defense shut them down.
“We missed a couple of tackles and we gave up a couple of touchdowns,” said Hinton.
Desert has many running back options to choose from, one of the terrors is Jordan Bella who scored three times on runs of three, four, and six yards. He had eight carries for 30 yards. Maldonado finished with 101 yards on 15 muddy carries and one touchdown.
Logan Lukenbill, a sophomore, scored a two-point conversion, but also helped set-up Bella and Maldonado’s touchdowns by swimming in rough water rapids down the field on 19 carries for 92 yards and getting hit even when he didn’t carry the ball, keyed on. Logan is currently 20th leading rusher in California, 9th in CIF Southern Section, 2nd place in Northeast Division XIII, and 1st place in the Desert Mountain League with 2,047 yards according to MaxPres.com.
“I just can’t say enough about our offensive line and the way they moved people out there in the mud,” Hinton said.
The offensive line made great blocks and holes all night for the running backs and provided excellent pass protection for Moore. Most of the offensive line plays both offense and defense.
Some of the strong young men working hard for the team are Brandon Ide, Steven Miller, Dane Adams, Sean Davis, and Bryce Benlian. Players have said the addition of Todd Fink to the coaching staff has made them a stronger team. With Hinton on offense and Fink on defense, the team couldn’t have it any better.
Marcello Alverez and Chad Gleason led the defense with 10 tackles each, but everyone on defense definitely got a piece of Saddleback. Bryce Benlian had nine tackles followed by Scott Bonham with seven, Maldonado with six, Bella with five and the rest had more than three tackles each.
Bella recovered a key fumble and Marcello had two sacks. Jaime Escobar had one sack. DHS defensive players dominated the rankings in the Desert Mountain League for tackles. Team player Bonham ranks 5th, Alverez coming in 6th, Bella in 9th, Benlian in 12th, Steel came in 18th, Escobar is 29th and Dane Adams is ranked 44th.
“In my  years here, I’ve never seen a rain game like this,” Hinton said. “It’s almost like a survival test. We survived.”
The players would like to thank all the family, friends and neighbors for weathering the cold, wet storm to cheer them on to victory. We love to hear you scream for us.
If you missed this great Game, come watch Desert play in the semi-finals after Thanksgiving Nov. 29 for more great football action. Get away from the TV and see it live!