Santa Bqrbara quarterback Deacon tries to break out of grasp of a Palm Desert defender. (Brandon Magpantay / Desert Sun)

PALM DESERT — This tornado just keep twisting.

Fresh off its first playoff win in three decades, Santa Barbara High’s taste for the football postseason enjoyed further flavor on Friday night, as the Golden Tornado staved-off a late-game charge from host Palm Desert to advance through the CIF-SS Division 8 quarterfinal round with a 42-32 victory.

Junior quarterback and University of Wisconsin verbal commit Deacon Hill was stellar for the victors, authoring an 18-for-25 line for 361 yards and four touchdowns. Hill’s legs complemented his aerial exploits as he added 65 rushing yards and a touchdown.  

Santa Barbara running back Justin Perez plows through a host of Palm Desert defenders.

Santa Barbara running back Justin Perez plows through a host of Palm Desert defenders. (Brandon Magpantay / Desert Sun)

The QB’s rapport with Dakota Hill (no relation) went beyond shared surnames, as the senior wideout grabbed seven balls for 195 yards and a pair of scores in the victory, with his final grab of the night clinching the win for Santa Barbara.

Both teams had entered the quarterfinal round as winners of six consecutive games, with neither team having lost since September 20. Palm Desert (8-4), champions of the Desert Empire League, concluded the regular season as the division’s seventh-ranked team, while the Golden Tornado entered the playoff as the second-seeded squad.

“We talked about getting to the semifinal game a long time ago, and they believed and believed,” said Santa Barbara head coach J.T. Stone amid a jubilant post-game rush of players and supporters. “It’s the culture of these kids; a lot of these kids have been in this program a very long time.  They’ve gone through the ‘Do and Don’ts’ and ‘Rights and Wrongs,’ and they been able to embrace it and do all the right stuff this year.”

Leading 21-17 at halftime, Santa Barbara (9-2) extended its edge to 28-17 with a Deacon Hill 16-yard scoring connection to senior receiver Jackson Gonzales with just under five minutes to play in the third quarter.

Two-minutes into the final period, the Golden Tornado took a convincing 35-17 lead, complements of Hill’s 2-yard touchdown rush.

Yet Palm Desert wasn’t ready to toss away the chance at the CIF semis.

Capping off a 10-play drive, the Aztecs cut the deficit to 35-24 with five minutes to play, before an onside kick recovery led to a Simon Gaete 1-yard plunge and ensuing 2-point conversion to cut Santa Barbara’s lead to 35-32 with just over two minutes in the game.

A Santa Barbara defender puts a hit on Palm Desert quarterback Zavier Hill-Kemp

A Santa Barbara defender puts a hit on Palm Desert quarterback Zavier Hill-Kemp (Brandon Magpantay / Desert Sun)

“I was sweating every series. Anything could happen; it’s a playoff game,” said Stone. “It could be the refs, the weather, it doesn’t matter.  As a coach, you’re always working to get to the finish line.  I was definitely worried because it’s a playoff game with a playoff atmosphere.  Anything can happen, and it almost did.”     

After the Golden Tornado recovered the Aztecs’ next onside attempt, the clock-salting drive reached the Aztecs’ 24-yard line with a minute to play. Facing 4th-and-11, Deacon Hill found Dakota Hill for the latter of their two connections to author the final outcome.

 “Deacon has been around this program a long time, and he’s been trained to be a quarterback,” Stone said.  “He’s taken on the challenge to be the guy, to lead this team.  He’s awesome.  We’re at a point where I can tell him just to get up there (to the line) and just look, just slow down the game. And he was efficient tonight; that’s what I love.  He managed the game I wanted him to tonight, and that was probably the most impressive performance (of the year) because of that game management. ”  

Santa Barbara’s defensive line and linebacking core, led by noseguard Noach Wood and senior linebacker Charlie Figueroa, did yeoman’s work on Gaete, holding the standout back to 88 yards; the Palm Desert back entered the night with 2,328 rushing yards on the season.    

“It’s really nice, especially for these seniors.  We just came really prepared tonight,” said Deacon Hill.  “The offense was rolling the whole game, and the composure, it was just about staying calm.”

Moki Nacario and Jackson Gonzales caught TD passes and Santa Barbara got rushing touchdowns from Justin Perez and Deacon Hill.

Storming into the Division 8 semifinal next Friday night, the Golden Tornado will aim to keep that composure with a trip to Palmdale High (10-1). The Falcons, champions of the Golden League and the division’s fourth seeded team, beat Aliso Niguel, 13-12.
 

Santa Barbara’s defenders a Palm Desert ball carrier during the Golden Tornado’s 42-32 CIF quarterfinal win on Friday night.

Santa Barbara’s defenders a Palm Desert ball carrier during the Golden Tornado’s 42-32 CIF quarterfinal win on Friday night. (Brandon Magpantay / Desert Sun)