IMPERIAL VALLEY - This year's Imperial Valley League football race looks to be as tightly contested as any witnessed in recent years, with a huge matchup coming in the very first week of play between the Brawley Wildcats and the Imperial Tigers.
Brawley heads into this year's league play with an overall record of 4-1 with the only loss being a one-point defeat to Steele Canyon, a team ranked in the top 12 in the overall San Diego Section rankings.
After playing their best 48 minutes of football of the season against Yuma Catholic, the number one ranked team in Arizona’s division 3A, the Wildcats nearly fell into a mid-season trap, but narrowly defeated the Cibola Raiders at home last week.
On the other hand, the Tigers played perhaps their best football last week by defeating the Mount Miguel Matadors 51-19 at Mount Miguel High in Spring Valley.
The Tigers come into this game looking to play spoiler to an IVL season having to come down to the annual Bell Game between Brawley and Central, which this year is scheduled to possibly be the most talked about game in years... on paper. A wise man once told me at halftime of a 2013 IVL contest between Central and Imperial, “That’s why they lace 'em up and play 'em.”
That matchup saw underdog host Central take a 28-21 lead into the half against one of the most potent offenses in IVL history. The Tigers came back and won the game 45-28.
Imperial will play the “central” role from that 2013 game twice this year, hosting both the Wildcats and the Spartans. Should the Tigers upset even one of those teams before the Bell Game, we might even be looking at a three way tie for the IVL crown on paper.
Hoping to continue finish off its currently undefeated season with a perfect 10-0 mark will be the Central Spartans, who have been clicking all year in their second season under the David Pena era of Spartan football.
Last year was an impressive first season that saw the Spartans go 9-1 after finishing the previous season with just three wins. Most impressive was the Spartans pulling off a 22-15 victory over Brawley in the Bell Game, something Central had not accomplished since 2009, when Kevin Bird was the Spartans' head coach.
This year's Bell Game will have a different feel to it, as Central will travel to Brawley this year and both teams are hoping that at that point in the season, the rivalry game will determine not only this year's IVL champion, but also home field advantage for this year's CIF San Diego Section Division III playoffs.
Before reaching that point, the Spartans will have to maneuver through an IVL race with plenty of other storylines of its own, including a cross town face off in the the City Championship with current defending champs, the Southwest Eagles.
Currently 2-3 on the season, the Eagles are hoping to throw off the expected “on paper” results, but will have to do most of their spoiling on the road against both Brawley and Central. Southwest will host Imperial for the Johnny Romero helmet game in a matchup where they may even end up playing spoiler to the Tigers' playoff chances as well.
Calexico could also be playing a spoiler role as they hope to maneuver through IVL healthy and surpass expectations by perhaps making a deep run in the CIF San Diego Section Division V playoffs.
The Bulldogs are currently 3-2 with one loss in a close 6-0 defeat to the Vincent Memorial High School Scots, a team ranked number two in the Division V rankings.