BRAWLEY — The Brawley Union High School Wildcats hosted the Imperial High Tigers in Friday Night Light action on Warne Field October 4, where neither team disappointed fans. The action has been a much-anticipated contest since the season’s beginning.
A defensive struggle and a slim 16-0 had the Wildcats leading at halftime break, but the score rose faster than California gas prices. A big 'cat-fight' of a battle kept the fans on the edge of their seats as Brawley fended off a feisty Tigers squad every time they scored too close for comfort. At the end of the contest, the Brawley Wildcats held on to a 30-23 victory and put themselves in the drivers’ seat in the run for the IVL title.
A great return on the opening kickoff gave the Wildcats the ball at midfield to start the game. The 'Freshman Phenom' Ethan Gutierrez shared carries with Blake Krigbaum that quickly got them into the red zone and a scoring opportunity. Gutierrez (16 carries for 87 yards and one rushing touchdown) and game-rushing leader Krigbaum (11 carries for 141 yards and two touchdowns) paved the way for Xavier Perayda who kicked a 33-yard field goal and earned a 3-0 Wildcat lead.
The Tigers had a rough first possession starting at their 20-yard line on the touchback kickoff. One first down on the first play was followed by three plays and a punt. The Wildcats blocked that punt and were on the Tigers’ 14-yard line for their second scoring opportunity. Gutierrez scored on a nine-yard rush off of a perfectly executed veer-option run. Perayda missed his season’s first point after kick which left the score at 9-0 with 5:41 in the first quarter.
Brawley has played games in which their fans watched the quick lead vanish, but for the remainder of the first half, the Wildcat defense limited the Tigers' success.
"Our offense started out strong," said Brawley fullback/linebacker Blake Krigbaum. "Imperial's defense played us tougher in the second half. They’ve got a really good team over there."
The Tigers’ second drive was better than the first as they reached Brawley’s 13-yard line on 15 plays, but hit a wall as Joey Padilla was dropped for a three-yard loss on fourth and two.
The Tigers’ defense forced a fast three plays and a punt by the Wildcats and Imperial was back on the prowl for points. On the first play of the drive, the Wildcats forced a fumble after a completed pass by Jordan Reed (17 completions out of 35 passes for 233 yards and three touchdowns).
Brawley had the ball in good field position and moved the ball from the Tiger 42-yard line to the 35. On fourth down, the 'Cats elected to have Perayda attempt a 52-yard field goal. It fell way short of the uprights and was picked up and returned from the five-yard line to the 35, but a penalty put the ball half the distance to the goal line from the five.
Imperial punted four plays later, allowing the Wildcats good field position once again from close to midfield.
Both teams exchanged punts up to this point, but when the Wildcats had the ball with less than two minutes from halftime, Brawley was back in the end zone. The strong arm of Gutierrez, after faking a lateral attempt to Krigbaum, found Joel Murrillo streaking across the middle and splitting the defenders who followed behind him. He crossed the goal line for a 62-yard touchdown pass. The point after kick was good and Brawley took a 16-0 halftime lead.
Quick scores by both teams began the fireworks of the second half. Imperial’s Reed hit Ryan Bonillas for a 68-yard touchdown to put points on the scoreboard for the Tigers. It was 16-6 after a failed two-point try.
It was quickly answered as Krigbaum ran his season’s longest touchdown run of 83 yards keeping the Wildcats up by two scores. The score read 23-6 and only three minutes had run off the second-half clock.
"When we ran that play, I saw an opening and I took it," said Krigbaum When I was running, I was just full of happiness. It was crazy."
Fourteen plays later the Tigers narrowed the margin by three points when a fourth down attempt of a 23-yard field goal was converted, upping the score to 23-9.
The Tigers defense tightened up, and four plays later they were back on offense at their 14-yard line. Reed’s offense took 10 plays to put another touchdown on the scoreboard. Brawley’s penalties aided the drive. With 1:10 left in the third quarter, the Wildcats were up, 23-16.
Brawley’s next drive transitioned into the final quarter. Gutierrez was throwing strikes again as he eluded a potential sack and found two receivers covered by defenders. Adrian Chavez grabbed the rock from the air and reached the Tiger’s three-yard line. Three consecutive penalties took it back to the 22-yard line, but young Gutierrez moved the ball 17 yards back on one carry. The Wildcat’s next play hit 30 points on a three-yard touchdown run by Krigbaum. With 10:51 left in the game, the Wildcats led, 30-16.
Imperial narrowed the margin by seven points in seven plays bringing the score to 30-23. A third and four was easily turned into a touchdown on a Reed to Bonillas connection.
The Wildcats coasted on the next drive that could have iced the game. Twelve plays of the offensive line pushing and protecting its quarterback and running backs. Brawley reached the Imperial five-yard line, and in one play, all the momentum shifted to the Tigers.
An interception of a Gutierrez pass at the two-yard line by Andrew Luna, followed by a 36-yard return to the Wildcat 38-yard line, roared life into the Imperial Tigers and their fans.
Nine plays followed, including two penalties that extended the drive and agonized home team fans. Reaching the red zone’s 20-yard line edge, the Wildcat defense prevailed on rushing QB Reed to allow only quick throws. A sack on third down took them back ten yards to their 30-yard line and a fourth-down pass was batted away from completion by Krigbaum in his linebacker position.
The Wildcats ran out the clock to preserve the victory taking them a step closer to the hope of a IVL title.
"The first IVL game is always big," said Gutierrez. "[Imperial] was a tough opponent tonight. They’re a really good team."
The Tigers will regroup and host the Calexico Bulldogs next week, and the Spartans the following week. The Wildcats host the Palo Verde Yellowjackets Homecoming night Friday, October 11, at Warne Field.
"I’ve never played Palo Verde before. They’ve had a good season so far so it’ll be a good test for us," said Gutierrez.