By Ted Apodaca
Palm Desert High took advantage of a few Cypress miscues to break big plays and take a 17-7 lead in the first half. But the Cypress defense adjusted in the second half to shut down the Aztecs as the Centurions rallied for a 21-17 victory in the CIF-SS Division 9 playoffs on Friday at Western High.
As the Centurion defense settled in, the offense battled back to take the lead in the closing minute of the first half. After the Cypress defense made a stop on fourth and five, the offense struck quickly. Quarterback Alex Aschraft hit Dominique Thompson for a big gain, with a facemask penalty added on. On the next play, Ashcraft hit Thompson down the left sideline for a touchdown that gave the Centurions a 21-17 lead.
“It was an all-around team effort,” Thompson said.
Thompson was on the receiving end of all three Ashcraft touchdown passes. With Isaac Hurtado out with a knee injury, Alon Dennis stepped in to handle rushing primary rushing duties. Dennis finished with 105 yards on the ground.
“He came in to fill in for Isaac and he just did a great job,” Feldman said.
Palm Desert had struck first on a bubble screen pass that went for a 42-yard touchdown after a couple of Cypress missed tackles. After Cypress misplayed a punt snap, the Centurion defense was able to hold Palm Desert to a field goal and 10-0 lead.
Ashcraft would connect with Thompson on a 25-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to 10-7, but Palm Desert regained a 10-point lead with a touchdown bomb on a third and 31 play. It was a play that was uncharacteristic of the Cypress defense, Head Coach Rick Feldman said.
“Our halftime talk was, ‘I didn’t feel like Palm Desert was beating Cypress, I felt like Cypress was beating Cypress,’” Feldman said.
In the second half, the Centurion defense turned things around. Palm Desert threatened, but Cypress shut them out in the second half. Elias Rios had two interceptions, including one in the end zone to thwart a scoring opportunity.
“We bent a little bit on defense, but they just played hard and made plays when they had to,” Feldman said.
After Palm Desert had taken their 17-7 lead, the Centurions struck back quickly. Thompson returned the kickoff to the 40 yard line. A few plays later, Ashcraft found Thompson for a touchdown pass that cut the lead to 17-14, with 5:39 left in the half.
With 7:12 left in the game, the Cypress offense was able to put together a 12-play drive that ate up most of the remaining time. A misplayed snap forced the Centurions to punt, but it was downed at the nine yard line with 44 seconds left. Palm Deserts desperation last play was stopped on a sack by Miles Mendez and Omar Benkirane.
Cypress will host top-seeded Aquinas, in the semifinals on Friday at Western High at 7 p.m.