EL CENTRO – The undefeated Southwest High School Eagles Varsity football team jumped a big hurdle Friday night as they hosted the defending IVL 2016 Champions Brawley Wildcats. In what had the same ingredients as last year’s game between the two teams, the tables turned and the Eagles remained undefeated as the final seconds ticked off the clock. Southwest is a step closer to the IVL Title as its biggest obstacle now remains the Imperial High Tigers.
Brawley’s fate paralleled the Eagles’ of last year when they lost their starting quarterback early in the game. Starting quarterback and defensive starter Casey Kline suffered a game-ending injury in Southwest’s first offensive drive, making it an uphill climb for the Wildcats the rest of the way.
Brawley relied on third backup quarterback Senior George Mickle to guide them as second backup Ethan Torrez was unavailable. It was a slow start offensively for the Wildcats, but they did what no other team had done this season: they led in the game, 12-10, in the third quarter.
But on this night, the soaring Eagles would not let history repeat itself as they beat the Wildcats at Eagle Stadium for the first time since 1997. The scoreboard showed a 20-12 final as Southwest improved to a record of 7-0.
Both teams struggled on their first drives after Brawley received the opening kickoff. Each gained a first down but nothing else as they traded punts. Brawley’s second drive began with Mickle behind center, but no first downs as they punted after three plays.
Southwest won the field-position game early as they started driving near midfield. On their second drive, Cameron Jungers (12-21 for 192 yards passing and 13 carries for 30 rushing) engineered the first scoring of the game. Five rushes and three passes completed the drive putting the Eagles up 7-0 on a touchdown pass of 22 yards to Justin Cordova with 1:15 left in the first quarter.
Another three and out (punt) for the Wildcats was duplicated by the Eagles themselves as both defenses were finding their strengths. With 9:08 left until the halftime break, Brawley took five minutes off the clock to begin an 11-play drive. Using their top rusher Michael Moreno (game leading rusher of 28 carries and 169 yards) on seven of the eleven plays, it was Mickle who put the first points of the game for the Wildcats on a one-yard run. The point-after-attempt was blocked and Southwest was still leading 7-6 with 4:07 left in the half.
A nine-play drive followed for the Eagles as they drove from their 39-yard line to the Wildcat 26-yard line. Risking a 43-yard field goal instead of trying a fourth and nine, Derek Guzman nailed the three pointer as it just floated over the crossbar with 1:09 until half and an Eagle 10-6 lead went into the break.
The second half had the Eagles receiving the kickoff to start, but a lucky break for the Wildcats gave them a chance to take the lead. A mishandled exchange between Jungers and Saikhon produced a fumble that was swallowed up by Wildcat Henry Thomas on the Brawley 49-yard line. This drive started at the 11:25 mark and ended with 7:47 left in the third quarter.
The Wildcats used Moreno on eight straight runs and he would not disappoint. A huge run of 24 yards was marred by a penalty of an illegal use of hands by him, but two plays later, he went untouched for a 15-yard touchdown run. An attempt at the two-point conversion was stopped short by the Eagle defense and the scoreboard was showing the Wildcats in the lead 12-10.
The next drive for the Eagles appeared to be disastrous at first with an overwhelming defensive push back by the Brawley Wildcats. Starting at their 24-yard line, Southwest lost 10 yards on a holding penalty and was followed by what appeared to be quarterback Jungers throwing a pass after crossing the Eagles’ line of scrimmage. It would have resulted in yards lost and most importantly, a loss of down.
Unfortunately for the Wildcats, an ineligible player downfield was called, thus resulting in only a five-yard loss. Jungers was sacked close to the goal line just escaping a safety call and the ball was on the one-yard line with a second and 33 yards to go for a first down.
A Saikhon run of six yards made it third and 27. The next play, which would have been fourth down, was the biggest play in the game as Jungers passed to Ryan Silvia for a 53-yard gain into Wildcat territory. Seven plays later, they reached the eight-yard line of the Wildcats. Derek Guzman kicked a 25-yard field goal to give Southwest a 13-12 lead with 3:43 left in the third quarter.
The Wildcats’ offense was shut down on its next drive and another punt gave the Eagles the ball back at their own 15-yard line. This drive would be the icing on the cake as they choreographed 12 plays that had five pass completions. Taking it into the fourth quarter, the Eagles’ lead increased to 20-12 with 9:55 left in the game. The scoring play came on a short three-yard pass from Jungers to Saikhon.
Brawley’s next drive used over nine minutes that started on their 20-yard line. Using 13 plays to cross midfield, the Eagle defense shut it down with two sacks on the Wildcats’ last two offensive plays. From there, Southwest ran down the remaining three minutes left on the clock to stay undefeated for their seventh consecutive win.
Brawley will host the Calexico Bulldogs at Warne Field Friday and the Southwest Eagles will play the Imperial Tigers. The Tigers tied the Central Spartans and lost in overtime making the IVL title chase a bit more interesting.
“We played a really tough team with big line-men,” stated Eagle’s Corner Back Tyler Saikhon. “Our offensive line stepped up big tonight on that 99 yard scoring drive and I have to give those guys props,” he concluded.