Imperial Valley high school football: Games to Watch

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IMPERIAL VALLEY – The Imperial Valley League football season officially opens Friday, August 25, with the Brawley Union High Wildcats hosting Steele Canyon High in the first game of the season.

While not a “make or break” game for the Wildcats, it is a game that will provide opportunities for the young Brawley team to learn early in the season if they have a chance for a long bid for both IVL and CIF Division 2 standings. Steele Canyon comes into the contest with an experienced squad that qualified for last year’s CIF San Diego Section Division 1 playoffs.

On September 1, Southwest High School will kickoff its run against the Yuma schools’ “tour” with a matchup against the Cibola High School Raiders, an Arizona team that has given Valley squads headaches over the last few years with wins over Brawley and Imperial in the 2015 and 2016 campaigns.

Ironically, the only team from the Valley to defeat the Raiders in that time frame has been the Eagles, who did so in dramatic fashion with a 47-42 road win in Yuma against the Raiders. Will the Eagles make it a repeat victory over Cibola this year? Or will the Raiders get their revenge on the road?

The Imperial Tigers play September 15 in an away game at Valley Center High School north of San Diego. In a nail biter last season, the Tigers dropped a close game at home to the Jaguars, 34-31. The two schools have met in contests on the football field each of the last three years with Valley Center winning all three, but the games have all been close and decided late in the contest with last year’s being the closest. Will the Tigers finally get over the hump?

Also on September 15, the Calexico Bulldogs host the Calipatria High School Hornets.The Bulldogs and the Hornets each saw their schools make leaps under new coaching staff last year, and as interesting as this IVL vs. Manzanita league matchup looks on the field, the matchup on the sidelines will be just as intriguing as both coaches have deep coaching roots in the Valley. Will Mike Swearingen and the Hornets be able to ride into Bulldog country and escape with the victory? Or will John Tyree and the Bulldogs use a home field advantage and prove to be a little too much too soon for the Hornets?

The Central Spartans will host the Vincent Memorial Scots September 29, a week before they each begin their respective league play, and in hopes to provide each other with some early game experience. Both schools are located in the Imperial Valley, but are in different leagues. Central represents the Imperial Valley League, while Vincent Memorial plays in the Manzanita League. Can The Scots pull off an upset, or will the Spartans stand their ground and defend their home field with a win?

On October 6, the Southwest Eagles will play the Central Union High Spartans in this year’s annual City Championship. It will be a special game for each team — for ironically different reasons.

For Southwest, this year’s edition will serve as the last city championship game for the senior backfield trio of Cameron Junger, Justin Cordova and Tyler Saikhon, as they have been part of the Eagles’ Varsity squad since their sophomore years and contributed to the city championship victories over the Spartans for the last two seasons.

For the Spartans, this game is what they hope will be their first of many successful city championship games under new Head Coach David Pena. Can Pena and the new look of the Spartans throw off the veteran Eagles on the road? Or will the veterans at Southwest prove this game will give them a win like the last two years?

On October 27, the Brawley Wildcats host the Imperial Tigers, their fiercest IVL rivals in recent memory, and this game could shape up into a classic. Over the last six years, this match up has been the game that decided IVL as the two schools took turns winning the last six IVL titles. This year, both teams are fielding young, talented teams. Over the last six years, they have taken turns beating each other on their home turf in that time span, but could this be the year the “home” team can finally pull it off?

The Calipatria Hornets will host the Holtville Vikings November 2 in the 2017 annual Axe game played at Veterans Stadium in Calipatria, where the Vikings will find themselves in very unfamiliar territory… a real challenge for the Axe. The Hornets went into last year’s Axe game and played a nearly perfect one, defensively and offensively, en route to a surprising 36-7 victory in Holtville. Was that game the beginning of a Hornet football run in the Manzanita League? Or was last year’s game a one-time incident? This year’s Axe game may provide that answer as the 2017 crown may come down to this matchup.

The annual Bell Game between the Central Spartans and Brawley Wildcats is scheduled for November 3. It is a staple in the communities of Brawley and El Centro as both teams consist of athletes who have grown up their whole lives hearing and eagerly anticipating their turn to participate in the contest.

Although the results of the game have not decided the IVL crown outright every year, it is the pageantry surrounding the event and intensity shown during the game by its participants that has never wavered. Brawley currently has possession of the bell and does not want to let it go. Central wants it and hopes to wrestle it away. The Spartans will host, and Cal Jones field will be the place to be in the Valley that November night, and who knows? It’s outcome may have a say in the 2017 IVL race.