It was the type of game that left Desert Vista head football coach Dan Hinds with a feeling that he was just punched in the gut.
The Thunder had just scored an improbable touchdown on fourth down from 20 yards out against Notre Dame (Sherman Oaks, Calif.). Desert Vista senior quarterback Parker Navarro, targeted tight end Braeden Belnap for what would have been a first down. Instead, Belnap was hit from behind early by a Notre Dame defender, tipping the ball into the hands of Thunder senior wideout Colton Grover.
Flags flew, indicating pass interference which caught the Knights’ defense off-guard as they came to a halt mid-play. Grover ran in to give Desert Vista a 35-34 lead with just over a minute to play.
“At that point, all we are thinking is ‘thank God,’” Grubbs said. “We knew we had to keep fighting. It was a dog fight and we knew we had to go back out there.”
Desert Vista’s defense had done a solid job all afternoon limiting Notre Dame’s offense. The Knights were down to their third string quarterback, sophomore Zachary Siskowic due to injuries. But he found a rhythm, running for a first and making accurate throws to his receivers who quickly got out of bounds to stop the clock.
Finally, on fourth down from the Desert Vista 16 with just five seconds remaining, Notre Dame kicker Anthony Prieto hit the game-winning 34-yard field goal to lift the Knights over the Thunder, 37-35, on Saturday afternoon at Cathedral Catholic High School in San Diego for the 2019 Honor Bowl.
“We just ran out of time,” Hinds said. “That’s all it came down to. They had the ball last and time ran out.”
The loss to Notre Dame, one of the top teams in California, shouldn’t hurt Desert Vista in terms of vying for a spot in the new Open Division 8-team playoff at the end of the regular season.
In fact, based on the Thunder’s play and improvement from last week’s win over Palm Springs (Calif.), it only gives them momentum heading into the meat of their in-state schedule.
“They’re motivated,” Hinds said. “They saw how much better we got from last week and they’re determined to continue to get better every time we step out on the field.”
There were several bright spots for Desert Vista throughout the game. From the pressure the defensive line put on all three of Notre Dame’s quarterbacks, to the Thunder’s offensive production as a whole.
Navarro’s performance leading the Desert Vista offense led him to be named the team’s MVP of the Honor Bowl. Senior running back Tyson Grubbs received the Character Award from The Honor Group, the sponsoring non-profit for the Honor Bowl.
“It feels great,” Navarro said. “Everything I do is for my team and I wouldn’t have been able to do this if it weren’t for them.”
Both Grubbs and Navarro kept Notre Dame’s defense on its heels the entire afternoon, showing their elusiveness in space and breaking would-be tackles to pick up extra yards.
On several occasions Navarro and Grubbs would find lanes and extend Thunder drives on fourth down.
Grubbs finished with 110 all-purpose yards while also contributing on defense. Navarro, meanwhile, finished 12-for-22 for 167 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for 143 yards and added on one more score and a two-point conversion that gave Desert Vista the lead late in the game.
“I know it sounds like a cliché, but Parker is special,” Hinds said. “He’s doing things out there that not many others in Arizona are able to do. He’s just an all-around special kid.”
Navarro and Desert Vista senior wideout Elijah Ervin have emerged as one of the biggest threats to an opposing secondary in the state. The two connected for over 150 yards last week against Palm Springs, and added 87 more yards in San Diego Saturday, including two touchdown passes, one of which for 31 yards where Ervin dragged several Notre Dame defenders to reach the end zone.
While the loss was one that came in devastating fashion for the Thunder, its one that gives them confidence knowing they pushed a talented team to the brink.
Desert Vista (1-1) will have next week off for its bye before heading to Valley Vista in Surprise on Sept. 13.
“We learned a lot about the resiliency of our team,” Hinds said. “That’s why we feel good about, not the outcome, but what will come of it. I’m very proud of them.”
DV — 7 13 0 15 - 35
ND — 14 7 7 9 - 37
DV — D. Grubbs 8 run (Hauck kick), 2:51
ND — Guyton 81 kick return (Prieto kick), 2:36
ND — Meek 65 pass to Guyton (Prieto kick), 1:05
DV — Navarro 31 pass to Ervin (Hauck kick), 10:16
ND — Horton 63 run (Prieto kick), 6:20
DV — Navarro 15 pass to Ervin, 1:21
ND — Spearman 5 run (Prieto kick), 1:28
DV — Navarro 27 run (Navarro 3 run), 10:04
ND — Spearman 27 run, 8:04
DV — Navarro 20 pass to Grover (Hauck kick), 1:56
ND — Prieto 34 FG, :00