Â BRAWLEY – A partial lunar eclipse lit up the pre-game skies in Brawley Friday evening, but two Super â€Starsâ€ stole the show on Warne Field come game time.
A determined Tiger team from Imperial had set their goals after last yearâ€™s loss in the quarterfinals of the Division IV playoffs on the same field. That determination and a whole new offensive style proved to be the difference as Tigers took a giant step toward the IVL Crown.
When the scoreboard struck 0:00 there was no doubt who the better team wasÂ Friday evening as Imperial defeated the Wildcats 29-10.
Both teams could not produce scoring drives in their first two possessions as each team punted twice. After Brawley punted on the second play of the second quarter, Imperial accomplished something it had failed to do since joining the IVL. With 11:49 left to halftime and starting at their own 18, the Tigers orchestrated a drive to perfection.
Runs byÂ one â€œStarâ€ of the evening Royce Freeman (26 rushes â€“ 238 yards unofficially) had the Tigers up 7-0 and they took a lead, their first ever as an IVL member, in regulation time, against the Wildcats.
Royce is now less than 100 yardsÂ from breaking the San Diego CIF Section all-time rushing title.
The lead didnâ€™t last long for the Tigers. It appeared the Imperial Tiger defense had found success on slowing down the Wildcats potent rushing game, but a minute and thirty seconds later Brawley tied the score. Bryce Alexander found nothing but daylight on a 68 yard electrifying counter run. The point after was good and the score was tied at 7-7 at 6:25 until halftime.
Defenses stiffened as both teams had opportunities to take the lead before half. Imperial moved the ball well on their last possession of the half but Bryce Alexander intercepted a Chris Carter pass inside the 30 of Brawley. The Wildcats were satisfied with the tie at halftime and it remained 7-7 at half.
Brawley received the second half kickoff but could not muster up enough yardage for even one first down. They did see daylight when a fumble by the Tigers let the Wildcats gain possession at the Imperial 33 yard line. Unfortunately, that light was the Defensive Tiger Express as it ran down any hopes of Brawley taking a lead in the game.
With the ball and a tie score, the Tigers started a drive with 8:07 left in the third quarter. The very first play was an incredible QB run by Chris Carter of 76 yards from their 20 to the Wildcat 4 yard line.
Although the run was spectacular in itself, two other behind the scene incredible players showed why they will be playing in Division I next year.
Royce Freeman ran from clear across the opposite side of the field that allowed Carter a chance to make it into the redzone.
The other play, Donavin Buckâ€™s relentless â€œNever Give Upâ€ on the play prevented Carter from scoring by taking him down at the four yard line. This play inspired the Brawley defense as they held Imperial to no yardage on the next three plays.
It brought up a critical 4th and goal at the Brawley four yard line. A pitch to Royce Freeman saw him try to get around the corner with three defenders in his way. Shear strength, talent and his God-given ability saw him score on a play that normally would have been stopped at the five yard line.
A penalty on the extra point encouraged the Tigers to go for the two point conversion. They converted as Chris Carter bootlegged it in untouched for the 15-7 lead with 6:10 left in the third.
It was catch up time for the Brawley offense, something it hadnâ€™t done much of this season. A tough grinding of yardage in short spurts did move the chains often as well as the clock.
A Tiger defense had stiffened once again and only allowed a field goal by the Wildcats. At 9:55 left in the game it was now 15-10.
The Tigers moved the ball well in the hands of Freeman on the next drive where they reached midfield. The Brawley defense made big plays on the second and third down.
Chris Carter was forced into a bad pitch that was fumbled, but recovered by Imperial and a gain of only three yards brought up a punting situation with a 4th and 20.
Brawley had another chance to take the lead with the ball at the 7:35 mark of the fourth quarter. Three plays later the Wildcats punted back to the Tigers where Imperial increased its lead.
Still looking as fresh and rested as he did since the beginning of the game, Royce Freeman scored from just under 50 yards to pay dirt.
Down 22-10, the Wildcats Â gained just less than 10 yards and turned the ball over to the Tigers.
With 2:12 left in the game, Royce took it to the outside on Brawleyâ€™s sideline and displayed a TD run so â€œunrealâ€, it was awe inspiring. He went for 60 yards and the Tigers went up 29-10. Brawley Â had the ball one last time but they only got two more first downs until time on the clock ran out.
After it was all over, my only reaction to Royce Freeman and Donavin Buckâ€™s performances was WOW!
The Wildcats fall to 1-1 in IVL and 5-2 overall for the season. A strong finish with big wins in their next three league games could get them a first round home game but that will be in the hands of the San Diego CIF seeding personnel.
Next week is Homecoming for the Wildcats, then two games in El Centro versus Southwest and Central (The Bell Game).
As for the Imperial Tigers, they remain undefeated at 7-0 and could get a first round bye for the first round, then a home game in the quarterfinals. The playoffs are going to be interesting this year as the Semi-finals are on Wednesday before Thanksgiving while the Finals for Division I, II and Open Division are scheduled at the â€œQâ€ on Monday December 2nd.