IMPERIAL — The Imperial Tigers hosted the Gila Ridge Hawks this past Friday night, September 6, as the Tigers were looking build on their momentum following last week's victory, while the Hawks were looking to go 2-0 against Valley teams so far this season. While the Hawks jumped out to a quick 21-0 lead, the Tigers would mount a comeback late but would fall a field goal and two yards short on a late drive to end the night with a 37-34 loss.
Early on, it was the Eagles doing damage, following a nine play, 60-yard drive on the first possession of the game capped by a 28-yard pass from Senior Quarterback Kaleb Cota to junior receiver Jonathan Noriega. A fumble recovered by the Hawks on the ensuing kickoff would lead to another quick strike, this time with an eight-yard rushing touchdown by senior Renan Duarte. Another fumble recovery deep in Tiger territory set up the next Hawk touchdown as Cota kept the ball on a one-yard quarterback sneak to give the Hawks a 21-0 lead with 3:52 left to play in the first quarter.
Down 21-0 just over eight minutes into the first quarter, Tiger offense got them back in the game as senior running back Manuel Quintero took six straight hand-offs to start and end a 60-yard drive, capping it off with a two-yard touchdown rush. Junior Ryan Bonillas would run the two point conversion in to cut the Hawk lead down to 8-21 just before the end of the first quarter.
The Tigers defense would hold the Hawks to a field goal on their next possession and after a few punt exchanges through the second quarter, the Tigers struck again. With 35 seconds left in the half, junior quarterback Jordan Reed found senior receiver Joey Ramos for an eight-yard touchdown pass to cut the hawk lead to 14-24. After an out-of-bounds kickoff though, the Hawks found themselves in decent field position and were able to end the half with another field goal to send the teams to the break with the score 14-27 in favor of the Hawks.
On the very first possession of the next half, the Tigers executed a 10-play, 64-yard drive capped by a touchdown pass from Reed to Andrew Luna. The extra point kick by Robles was good and with that, the Hawk lead was down to 21-27.
As the Hawks looked to be nearing another score on their next possession, Joey Ramos again found his hands on the game ball, this time defensively intercepting a pass deep in Tiger territory, ending the danger of the Hawks adding to their lead. The Tigers would not capitalize on the turnover, though, as they would be forced to punt on their following possession.
After a sack on first down from Tiger James Fowlkes pinned Gila Ridge 16 yards away from a first down, the Tigers were able to force a three and out. The Tigers, however, would turned the ball over on downs in their next possession.
The Hawks added to their lead with a 28-yard touchdown pass to put them up 21-34 with 9:57 left to play in the fourth quarter.
The Tigers struck quickly on their next possession on a 61-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to 27-34 with 9:03 left in the game. Andrew Luna stepped in front of a Gila Ridge pass attempt and returned the interception back to the Hawk's 10-yard line. Two plays later, senior running-back Jesus Padilla scored with just over eight minutes to play tying the score at 34-34.
Four minutes later, though, Hawk kicker Pablo Vargas gave Gila Ridge the lead with a clutch field goal, taking the score to its 37-34 final.
The Tigers drove the Gila Ridge 24-yard line before turning the ball over on downs, ending the Tiger rally.
“Our young men showed a tremendous amount of character and heart. They could have folded after the first quarter but showed the true Tiger spirit and fought like heck to come back,” said Tigers Head Coach Kerry Legarra of the teams comeback after a tough first quarter.
“I am very proud of the players and coaches.”
The Tigers' Jordan Reed finished the night completing 15 of 27 pass attempts for 205 yards and three touchdowns. Manuel Quintero rushed for 76 yards on 16 carries and a touchdown, while senior running back Jesus Padilla finished with 42 yards on nine carries and a touchdown.
For the Hawks, quarterback Kaleb Cota finished with 233 yards on 21 completions in 40 attempts and two touchdowns. Renan Duarte finished with 66 yards on 18 carries and a touchdown.
Next Friday, the Tigers will be on the road to take on Valley Center in San Diego while Gila Ridge plays the Central Spartans; kickoff for both games is scheduled for 7 p.m.