IMPERIAL – The Imperial High Tigers finally were home this Friday, after spending their first two weeks of the season on the road in Yuma, and they were able to give the home fans a show and a good look at what to expect this season, with a 42-21 win over Sweetwater High of San Diego.
For the opponents, the question was how you stop Royce Freeman, who coming into Friday’s game had already amassed 534 yards rushing and nine touchdowns.
Early on it seemed as though Sweetwater was on to something as they forced a quick three and out on Imperial to start the game. A rush from Freeman was stuffed for a three yard gain and two incomplete passes from Imperial Quarterback Chris Carter forcing Imperial to punt.
A fifty yard punt from Freeman put Sweetwater at their own ten yard line for their first possession of the game. After stringing together a few first downs, an intentional grounding penalty forced Sweetwater into a 3rd and 30. Only able to get five yards back on third down, they were forced to punt the ball back to imperial.
Again the Sweetwater defense kept Freeman contained as he rushed for 8 yards and no gain on the first two plays of Imperial’s second possession. But then on 3rd and two, Imperial reminded the Sweetwater defense that there was more than just one explosive back in the backfield for Imperial as Carter rushed for a nine yard gain and a first down.
Then, it was back to Freeman, who unleashed a strong 26 yard scamper, breaking tackles and juking defenders in traffic and tight spaces, giving the Tigers a first and goal from the Sweetwater ten yard line. With a two yard loss on a Carter completion and a Freeman three yard gain, it was 3rd and goal from the nine yard line. Carter kept the ball on a Quarterback Keeper and ran into the end zone to put the Tigers up 7-0 with 2:19 left in the first quarter.
After a kick that went out of bounds on the kickoff, the Tiger defense forced a three and out of their own. This gave the Tiger offense the ball all the way back at their 8 yard line. After being tackled for a two yard loss on the first play of the series, Freeman received a perfect pitch from Carter and ran 94 yards for his first touchdown of the day. This put the Tigers up 14-0 with 11:40 left in the half.
Due to a holding penalty on Sweetwater on the kickoff they were forced to start their next drive on their own fifteen yard line. Seventeen plays and two personal foul calls on the Tigers later, Sweetwater was finally able to get on the board with a two yard run on 2nd and goal.
Imperial started its next drive at its own 39 yard line. The drive lasted just one play as Freeman took a pitch from Carter and ran it 61 yards for his second touchdown, giving Imperial a 21-7 lead going into the half.
Sweetwater received the ball after the break but could not get any offense consistently working and would eventually punt the ball away.
On this possession for the Tigers, both Carter and Freeman showed their elusiveness and speed as they cut, spun, and just plain ran by defenders, with Freeman capping the drive off with a five yard touchdown run.
Down 28-7 with 5:46 left in the 3rd quarter Sweetwater took over at their own 25 yard line. They marched right down the field with a variety of different runners, and went 75 yards over nine plays pushing the score 28-14 with just four seconds left in the quarter.
After a surprising onside kick and unsportsmanlike conduct call on Sweetwater, Imperial took over on the Sweetwater 34 yard line. A beautiful 34 yard pass from Carter to Dajon Stanton on third down was called back due to a holding call. In the end the Tigers couldn’t muster up anything successful on third and long and punted it back to Sweetwater.
Starting at their own 20 and feeling desperate, Sweetwater went for and converted a fourth down, but Imperial’s Victor Cruz recovered a fumble on the next play at the Sweetwater 32 yard line. Two plays later Freeman was in the end zone again with a 25 yard run, his fourth of the night, which put the Tigers up 35-14 with just 7:49 left to play.
With the Tigers up by three scores and its offense looking nearly unstoppable, the Tiger defense possibly fell asleep and allowed a 59 yard run from Junior Antonio Garcia of Sweetwater bringing the score to 35-21.
A short squib kick and a smart signaling of a fair catch by Imperial’s Aaron Brown, Imperial had the ball at its own 27. This drive featured much of the same as the last few with no answer yet for Carter and Freeman, which ended with Freeman scoring his fifth and final touchdown of the night from 37 yards out with just 2:11 left in regulation.
The Tigers ended the night with a comfortable 42-21 win over Sweetwater. Royce Freeman would finish up with 322 yards rushing on 17 carries, and five rushing touchdowns, bringing his season rushing touchdown total to 9, and career rushing total to 84 carries. Chris Carter also chipped in 8 carries for 74 yards, 1 touchdown, and had some key reads on pitches that sprung Freeman open for big yardage.
Overall the Carter-Freeman tandem looks like something out of a horror movie for defensive coordinators in the Imperial Valley League and San Diego Section to figure out how to stop.
Imperial coach Kerry Legarra was pleased with the teams play Friday night and was also confident of his team’s continued success the rest of the season. “In the regular season, I think we can go 10-0 if we stay healthy and continue to strive like we have,” said coach Legarra.
If tonight is any indication it looks like it’s going to be a fun ride for Imperial Tiger fans.
Imperial moves to 3-0 on the season and will be at Mater Dei Catholic next Friday.