Shorthanded and waterlogged, the Desert Chapel High School football team was out of sync on a rainy Saturday afternoon.
Hope Centre Academy capitalized, routing the Eagles 54-20 at Daniels Field in San Pedro to advance to the CIF Southern Section Division II eight-man championship game.
"They're a great team, but with everybody healthy, I believe it would've been a different game," Desert Chapel coach Jim Donaldson said.
Four starters were out for the Eagles -- wide receiver Kyle Ettleman, linebacker Roman Pellum and linemen Miguel Alonso and Isaac Plentl. Wide receiver Evan Armendariz hurt his neck and left the field in an ambulance in the third quarter. Linebacker Patrick Rovney (ankle) and wide receiver Shannon Estrin (broken hand) played despite their injuries.
Pellum was suspended for the game because an official ejected him from last week's contest against Marywood-Palm Valley. The Eagles disputed the call.
"It's tough when someone does that to you, and they take away someone from your team in the playoffs," Donaldson said.
Perhaps the game would have been different as well if it hadn't rained, but a shower started right before kickoff, catching Desert Chapel off guard. On the third play from scrimmage, Eagles center C.J. Harrison snapped the ball on the ground, and Hope Centre recovered it on the Eagles' 17-yard line. The Lions only needed two plays to score and take a 6-0 lead.
Desert Chapel answered as Armendariz caught a 6-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Dempsey Williamson to tie the game at 6.
But Hope Centre then pulled away. After Jashaun Aldridge ran it in from 26 yards out, the Lions recovered another bad Eagles' snap. Darien Rodgers scored on a 12-yard touchdown run to extend the lead to 20-6 with 10:08 remaining in the second quarter.
"A mud bowl was not in our favor," Donaldson said.
Featuring a high-tempo spread offense, the Eagles struggled to adapt to the sloppy conditions. Their white jerseys, blue pants and cleats were caked with mud.
After Hope Centre scored on its third consecutive drive, Williamson ran it in from 10 yards out to cut the lead to 28-12 with 2:46 to go before halftime.
But the Lions surged ahead in the third quarter, scoring three touchdowns to take a 48-12 lead.
Williamson threw a 22-yard touchdown pass to Estrin in the fourth quarter for the Eagles' final score.
Desert Chapel finished the season 9-3, while Hope Centre will take on Joshua Springs in Yucca Valley for the CIF title.
"We're proud of our seniors," Donaldson said, "and at the same time, we're excited about our future."