BRAWLEY – A chain, compromised of many links, connected together, work with each other for a common purpose. A single link on its own is nothing, it is weak. This was the mentality instilled to the Imperial Tiger team by Head Coach Kerry Legarra.
This inspiration was poured onto an already motivated Tiger team itching to get the proverbial “Wildcat” off their back. After coming up short twice to the Wildcats last year, with the second loss sending Imperial home for the season, the Tigers had finally arrived at the moment they sorely desired.
They wanted to beat the Brawley Wildcats at Warne Field, the same field where they were sent home.
And the result could not have tasted any sweeter for the Tigers, a 29-10 victory vaulting them to first place in Imperial Valley League and in pole position to finish at the top.
In what many expected to be a back and forth game with explosive plays going both ways, instead, a defensive struggle broke out for the first half. Both teams’ defenses found a groove and forced a 0-0 score after one quarter of play. That changed with 7:55 left in the half when Royce Freeman ended an 11-play, 82 yard drive with a five yard touchdown run.
While it took the Tigers over four minutes and eleven plays to get on the board in their drive, the Wildcats retaliated quickly, only needing three plays on its next possession to match it, as Bryce Alexander took a perfectly executed counter handoff and raced seventy yards for a Wildcat Touchdown to tie the game.
In a somewhat ironic turn of events, it was the Wildcats who actually struck with the “home-run” ball while the Tigers were forced into long, hard drives. Going into the half with the score tied 7-7, both teams knew they were in a “dog/cat” (depending on which side you’re on) fight. Only one team could come out on top and it was going to come down to which team had the most gas left in them.
After both teams exchanged punts on their first possessions of the second half, the Tigers finally got its “big-play” offense rolling when Quarterback Chris Carter, who had been bottled up by the quick Wildcat defense, finally broke for an electrifying seventy-four yard run on first down.
This set up a first and goal from the Wildcat six yard line. The Tigers were ready to pounce but the Wildcat defense did not lie down. The ‘Cats showed they still had heart and were determined to make the Tigers earn every inch they gained.
On the next three plays the Tigers ran with Freeman but were stuffed and forced into a fourth and goal from the four yard line. Then on fourth down, after taking a timeout to deliberate, coach Kerry Legarra made the call of the night, to go for it on fourth down from the four yard line of a tied game in the third quarter.
In what is most likely the most important run of Royce Freeman’s high school career he took a pitch and ran down the right side of the field where he was met by a Wildcat defender at the line of scrimmage. Powering through the tackle but not completely loose, another defender met him two yards from the goal line. With all the strength and will power still in the Tiger halfback’s 227 pound frame, Freeman stretched forward for the touchdown that would have been a turnover on downs, short by mere inches.
As the Wildcats jumped offside during the extra-point field goal attempt, the Tigers elected to go for two, which Chris Carter snuck bringing the game 15-7 with 6:10 left in the third quarter.
After an Imperial kickoff, the Wildcats took over from its own twenty four yard line. From there Ross Rubio, Isaac Comparan, and Bryce Alexander took turns powering their way down the field on a 17- play drive ending with a Remington Cambell twenty two yard field goal bringing the score to 15-10 with 9:55 left in the game.
In a scary moment for Tiger fans, the ensuing kickoff catch attempt was muffed, but the Tigers reached the ball before the Wildcats pounced and gained possession.
The drive went nowhere as a 13-yard loss on a missed lateral pitch forced a third and twenty-three that the Tigers only got four yards back.
A fourth down punt gave the Wildcats the ball with the hopes of scoring and putting themselves up late in the fourth. But the Tiger defense showed their toughness and forced a three and out, putting the ball back in their offenses hands with the Wildcat defense not rested between series.
With Imperial’s offense still on fresh legs ,the Wildcat defense felt the affects of a long hard-fought game, mixed with the Tiger “hurry-up speed offense” run all night. The ‘Cats could not keep up with the Tigers anymore.
Freeman who up to this point had rushed for 158 yards on 27 carries, broke sixty yards for his first “home-run” touchdown of the night, putting the Tigers up 22-10 with little over four minutes to go in the quarter.
After another Tiger defensive shutout, Freeman took the next handoff and went forty-nine yards for another touchdown. The dagger to the Wildcat hopes of a comeback brought the game to its final score of 29-10.
Royce Freeman finished the night with 267 yards rushing on 29 carries and four touchdowns. 109 of those yards and 2 touchdowns coming on his last two rushes.
Chris Carter’s 70 yards on 8 carries may not seem like impressive stats, but it was his 74- yard quarterback option that was the catalyst in putting the Tigers up, and for good.
After the victory, the Tigers still had to decide who would be the first team member ever to receive the “Chain of Honor.” This week’s vote was unanimous.
“After the game you are going to determine who earned that chain of honor, and they gave it to me,” said Tiger Head Coach Kerry Legarra, nearly driven to tears by the honor. Well done Tigers, well done Coach.
The Tigers now move to 7-0 on the season and 2-0 in IVL and next week will host the visiting Calexico Bulldogs.