Valley Center Squeaks by Tigers in Another Nail Biter

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IMPERIAL – Imperial Tigers were in search of their first victory of the season Friday night, hosting San Diego multi-time CIF Champions, Valley Center High School’s Jaguars. In a back and forth…  and back and forth affair it was, the Valley Center Jaguars walked off the field with a hard-earned 34-31 victory cinching Head Coach Rob Gilsters’ 200th win as his team’s head coach.

Valley Center opened the scoring on their first possession of the night, marching 50 yards on ten plays behind tough yards on the ground by Jaguar running back Daniel Belcher. The drive was capped with a 6- yard touchdown by quarterback Rikki Mazetti to Keith Vazquez. With the extra point missed, Valley Center took the lead 6-0 with a little under seven minutes left in the first quarter.

After a Tiger possession that saw Imperial reach the Jaguar’s five yard line, Valley Center pounced on a bad snap, saving six points and giving them possession at their own 21-yard line.

From there, Mazetti again found Vasquez deep for a 51-yard gain on the first play of the possession and gave the Jaguars possession inside Tiger territory. Just five plays later, Daniel Belcher found his way into the end zone on a four-yard touchdown rush. The two point conversion failed, leaving the score 12-0, Valley Center.

After Imperial took over at their own 20-yard line, all it took was three plays and Brandon Hueso’s 74-yard dart to the end zone on third down to put the Tigers on the board late in the first quarter and cut the lead to 12-7 after a converted extra point.

In the second quarter, the Tiger defense came alive, forcing Jaguar turnovers and punts, something the Imperial team was unable to accomplish in the first quarter.

First an interception by Justin Denault and then a fumble recovery by the Tigers gave them needed momentum, but neither turnover led to points on the board for Imperial, and the teams would go into the half with the score 12-7 in favor of Valley Center.

Imperial’s field goal by David Heredia halfway through the third quarter got the Tigers within two points at 12-10 and set the stage for a wild final 18 minutes of football.

First, Valley Center responded with a 75-yard, seven-play drive spearheaded by rushes from senior running back Daniel Belcher, and finished with a two-yard QB sneak touchdown from Mazzetti to put the Jaguars up 19-10.

The Tigers took only two plays and 30 seconds for their response, going 80 yards, beginning with a 30-yard Hueso rush and finishing with a 50-yard touchdown pass from Tiger sophomore quarterback Wyatt Rodriguez to senior wide receiver Raymond Beamon.

Going into the fourth quarter with the score 19-17, a strong Valley Center defensive stand would end in a Tiger loss of downs, giving the Jaguars the ball at Imperial’s 31-yard line.

A quick strike from Mazetti to senior receiver Brad Moffitt gave the Jaguars a 27-17 lead early in the fourth quarter.

The Tigers and Jaguars exchanged punts on their next possessions, but Imperial would find a quick response with eight minutes left in the game on a 60-yard touchdown pass from Rodriguez to Beamon to cut into the Jaguar lead, bringing the score to a close 27-24.

Once again, the Tiger defense clamped down and forced a punt and with field position beginning at the Jaguar 45-yard line, Tiger runningback Brandon Hueso would go thirty-seven yards on his first carry and Rodriguez would keep the ball for an eight yard quarterback scamper to give the Tigers their first lead of the game, 31-27 with 6:54 left in the game.

But the Jaguars did not leave without a fight, and after beginning the next possession at their 26-yard line, they captured the big play they needed as Mazetti found Belcher for a screen pass. Belcher was able to take 53 yards for the go-ahead touchdown, bringing the score to its 34-31 final.

The Tigers had a shot at a last second comeback, but a fumble recovered by the Jaguar defense ended the game and handed the Tigers another close loss on the season — its second nail biter at home.

“The mental mistakes are killing us. We have got to start taking care of that,” said Tiger Head Coach Kerry Legarra.

“I really believe we could be three and one if we could just get rid of the mental mistakes, because we play with so much heart, character and pride, we could easily be there,” Legarra said.

For the night, running back Brandon Hueso rushed for 222 yards on 24 carries and one touchdown. Raymond Beamon had four receptions for 145 yards and two touchdowns, and sophomore quarterback Wyatt Rodriguez threw for 220 yards on 14 completions in 22 attempts and two touchdowns.

Up next, the Tigers will host Christian High of El Cajon next week with kickoff scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday night.