IMPERIAL – On the first Friday of the “cold” season the Imperial Tiger football squad opened up IVL play against the Southwest Eagles in what was expected to be a dominant win for the Tigers. Whether it was the Tigers eying next week’s big game against Brawley too soon, or the Eagles showed up to play and didn’t lay down, the night did not go as smoothly as expected.
The Eagles received, and after two runs, they found themselves in a third and eleven, possibly facing a three and out. But an accurate pass from Edward Romero for a first down and a personal foul on the Tigers, had the Eagles threatening in Tiger Territory.
The Tigers “bend but don’t break” defense forced a turnover on downs, but the Eagles had shown they came to play.
Imperial took over at their own 43-yard line and on the first play Tiger field general Chris Carter connected with his favorite target Djaon Staton for a 32 yard gain. Just two plays later Carter again found Staton for a ten yard pass setting up first and goal from the Eagle nine- yard line.
After an incomplete pass on first down and a five yard run from Austyn Smyth, Royce Freeman touched the ball for the first time and went into the end zone for a touchdown on five- yard rush. A failed extra point and Imperial was up 6-0 with 6:23 left in the first quarter.
The Eagles started their next drive from their own 20-yard line. From there, the Eagles launched a heavy ground and aerial attack on the Tiger defense, keeping them off balance and picking up big chunks of yardage.
After only eight plays, junior running back Nigel Raab capped off a perfectly executed drive with a four -yard touchdown run. A successful extra point put the Eagles in the lead 7-6 late in the first.
On the ensuing kickoff the Eagles threw a curve-ball into the game, a well-timed onside kick that nobody anticipated. The Eagles recovered their perfectly placed kick, stealing possession and keeping the Tigers explosive offense off the field. Despite momentum, the Eagles could not mount any offense and were forced to a three and out.
An out-of-bounds punt put the Tigers on the 32 yard line to start their drive. Royce Freeman’s number was called twice as he took the ball for 24 yards on the first carry, and 25 on the next. It seemed as though we were about to see what we all were expecting, a Freeman highlight tape, but the staunch Eagle defense gave its best as they allowed only a few big plays. They clamped down and forced a turnover on downs deep in their own territory.
The Eagles took over from their own 16-yard line and they looked like a team bent on grinding out a win over the Tigers. After a 14-play drive ended with a punt, the Tiger offense was on the field yet again.
This time all it took was one play, a 68-yard catch and run from Carter to Freeman and the Tigers were up 12-7 with four minutes left in the half.
The Eagles again found success passing on their next drive as Romero hit receiver Nicholas Torres for a 17-yard gain to start the drive. The Tigers defense woke up and forced another turnover on downs.
The next Tiger possession saw all facets of Chris Carter’s arsenal as he unleashed a 23-yard scramble to start the drive and finished with a precision pass to Carlos Villanueva for the Tiger touchdown putting them up 20-7 to end the half.
To start the next half, the Eagles tried an onside kick, this time to no avail, the ball failed to go ten yards before being touched by an Eagle; the Tigers possessed at midfield.
From there Carter and Freeman took turns carving through the Eagle defense going 49 yards on seven plays to put the Tigers up 28-7 with 8:50 to go in the third quarter.
On the Eagle’s next possession they drove for a first down before the Tiger defense woke up and forced another turnover on downs. This defensive series for the Tigers was spearheaded by Dajon Staton’s great instincts as he deflected both third and fourth down passes to insure the stop.
Fifty yards and eight plays later Carter was in the end zone for an eleven yard touchdown run, his first touchdown run of the night, his fourth and final touchdown of the night overall. After a successful two point conversion the Tigers were up 36-7 with 1:18 left in the third quarter.
After forcing the Eagles to a three and out, the Tiger crowd finally got what it was waiting for and had expected to see all night, a long Freeman burst for a touchdown. The run of 69 yards gave Freeman his second and final rushing touchdown of the game, and third overall touchdown on the night. It also brought the game to its final score of 43-7.
Once again it was a “pick your poison” type of game for the defense facing Carter and Freeman as the Eagles were able to “hold” Freeman to under 200 yards rushing, but did not have enough to bring down Carter who threw for 159 yards and three touchdowns, and rushed for 104 yards and a touchdown.
Freeman finished the night with 198 yards and two touchdowns on the ground, and a 68-yard touchdown reception. An “off” night for Freeman
“It wasn’t our best performance, but were still 6-0 so I’m awfully proud of our players and coaching staff,” coach Kerry Legarra said after the win.
All eyes will be on Imperial as they travel to Brawley next week in a “Game of the Year” type atmosphere. Everyone is anxious to know whether the Tiger squad can finally get over the hump and defeat a Brawley team who defeated them twice last season. The Cats also sent them home packing, handing them a loss in the playoffs.
“I told the kids forget about tonight, we have to start thinking about next week right now,” Legarra added.
The entire valley has been thinking about next week’s showdown since schedules were released.