PALM DESERT – In what looked to be an even matchup on paper, the Palm Desert Aztecs and the Central Spartans looked to gain experience with another like minded foe with similar 1-1 records and show improvement from their early season setbacks.
Spurred on by two 2nd half interceptions, the Aztecs would turn an otherwise tight contest into a decisive rout, claiming victory 54-14 over the visiting Spartans.
It seemed apparent early on that the Aztecs would rely heavily on the ground game, giving the ball early and often to senior running back Hanyi Joh. Joh, who would finish the game with 174 yards rushing and three touchdowns, opened up the Spartan defense by bouncing it to the outside; making short passes down the middle of the field easier for quarterback Daniel Carter and Co.
Joh would find the endzone for the first time midway through the 1st quarter with a 4-yard run giving the Aztecs a 6-0 lead after a missed PAT.
The Spartans’ offense, which had seen a resurgence last week against Point Loma, seemed to be hit and miss for most of the night. Quarterback Damian Rodriguez was unable to get a flow for the game through the air, going 8 of 19 for 117 yards and one touchdown.
They would once again rely heavily on junior Charlie Sullivan, who rushed for four touchdowns during last week’s game against the Pointers. He too would be neutralized by the staunch Aztec front, only gaining 65 yards on 13 carries.
Late in the 2nd quarter, the Spartans would take the lead, 7-6, with a 25-yard score by Sullivan off of a direct snap on 4th down. That play was set up by a 35-yard strike from Rodriguez to freshman Sergio Garcia on 3rd and 37.
After a quick three and out by the Aztec offense, the Spartans would fumble the ball in the waning moments of the first half, giving the Aztecs prime field position. The would waste no time getting the ball into the endzone as Joh would rush for his 2nd score of the game just before halftime, giving the Aztecs a 13-7 lead going into the break.
“Coach McComb said it perfectly last week, ‘there’s a reason we are where we are’,” said Joh after the game. “This is the best performance we’ve had as a team [this season], but we just have to stick together and keep getting better as a team.”
The 2nd half began with both teams treating the game more like a passing league content, moving the ball down the field with ease and in a hurry.
The Aztecs would begin the 3rd quarter with Joh’s 3rd rushing TD just two minutes in. That’s all the time the Spartans would need to respond; going down the field and scoring on a 27-yard pass from Rodriguez to Garcia, cutting the Aztec lead to 20-14. Garcia would finish the game with three catches for 72 yards with one receiving touchdown.
It was at this point that the Aztecs would seize control of the game and take the air out of the Spartan sideline.
After going down the field in just two plays, scoring on a 10-yard pass from Carter to James Lyons, cornerback Todd Shaw would intercept Rodriguez’s next pass and take it to the house, increasing the Aztecs lead to 33-14 and blowing the game wide open. Rodriguez would throw another interception on the Spartans’ next possession, ending his night under center.
“The interceptions weren’t completely on [Rodriguez],” said Central head coach David “Rookie” Peña. “It was a combination of errors that resulted in that pick six. It’s up to us as a team to get those mistakes fixed.”
The Aztecs would go on to outscore the Spartans 34-7 in the 3rd quarter, giving them a much needed cushion for the reserves who played for the majority of the 4th quarter.
“We knew we had to bounce back [after losing last week],” said Palm Desert quarterback Daniel Carter. “Everyone is watching us, doubting us, so we knew we had to come back strong this week.”
Central (1-2) will wrap up their three-game road trip next Friday when they travel to San Diego to take on the Vista Panthers.