EL CENTRO – Â The Central Spartans of El Centro hosted the Imperial Tigers Friday night in a battle of IVL unbeatens to determine the best in the Valley. After a spirited first half effort from the Spartans, it looked like the Tigers had bitten off more than they could chew, but a defensive shutout in the second half gave way to a Tiger victory with a final score of 45-28.
Initially, lady luck graced the Tiger side early as the Spartans were set to receive the first kickoff of the game but forgot to actually field the ball. Â The Tigers gladly recovered it and took possession early.
Working with a short field the Tigers scored less than a minute into the game on a Chris Carter quarterback option good for a sixteen yard touchdown, and a 7-0 lead.
On the ensuing kickoff Central finally fielded the ball, but a holding penalty trapped them within their own twenty yard line.Â After going backwards on the first two plays, it looked as though the Tiger defense would have an easy night. Then, on third and long, Central quarterback Sergio Osuna hit senior receiver Jakob Salgado for a twenty yard gain and a first down.Â Although they were forced to punt on the drive, Central had found a possible weakness to exploit.
Imperial took over after a punt from its own thirty one yard line and looked to be firing on all cylinders.Â In nine plays the Carter-Freeman tandem took turns chopping up the Spartan defense, picking up large chunks of yardage on the ground and the air, ending with Freeman punching in a fifteen yard touchdown run, his first of the night.
On Centralâ€™s next possession, there was a questionable call to Central touchdown as Centralâ€™s Jakob Salgado was being tightly covered and stepped out of bounds. He came back into the field of play and made an outstanding catch for a 24 yard touchdown.Â It was ruled he had been forced out and with that call Centralâ€™s touchdown stood and they were officially on the board with 1:32 left in the first quarter.
The Tigerâ€™s next possession did not last very long as Freeman was bottled up on two runs and the Tigers could only muster a first down before being forced to punt.
After a fair catch at the 19 yard line, the Spartans were looking at a long field but one quick pass got the job done as Osuna hit the Home Run ball with a pass to junior Angel Ramirez.
In another semi-controversial call it looked as though Ramirez was taken down in the open field. The officials ruled that neither his knee or elbow touched the ground so the 81-yard touchdown pass would count as Centralâ€™s second score of the night.Â With a missed extra point the score stood at 14-13, Imperial.
After scoring twice and stopping the Tigers on their last drive, the Spartans focus could not hold up as two defensive penalties, one of fourth down, and one on third down gave the Tigers automatic first downs and assisted on a 13 play touchdown drive for the Tigers.
Starting from their own twenty one yard line the Tigers marched seventy nine yards as Royce Freeman capped the drive off with an eleven yard run to put the Tigers p 21-13.
Motivated now, in one play the Spartans went sixty two yards for a touchdown of their own.Â This time it was Jakob Salgado taking a pass from Osuna and racing down the field for an amazing sixty-two yard catch and run.Â He was also on the receiving end of a pass from Osuna for the two point conversion, tying the game up at 21-21
With the game tied in the second quarter the Tigers decided to go to the air but the Spartan defense was ready for it as Spartan defender Joseph Ackie intercepted Chris Carters pass attempt at the Tiger forty four yard line.Â With momentum on their side the Spartans drove the ball 44 yards on seven plays to take the lead to 28-21 at the half.
With Central matching the Tigers play for play, and outworking them for the lead it was clear the â€œbullyâ€ had come to town and been â€œpunched in the mouth.â€Â The question now was how would the â€œbullyâ€ respond?Â Down at the half, on the road, against a team with everything to gain and nothing to lose, it was officially gut-check time for the Tigers.
And with that, the Tigers defense finally woke up in the second half and even though Salgado (who finished the night with nine receptions, 185 yards and two touchdowns)was doing his best Impersonation of Calvin Johnson, the Tigers were able to contain him and force a second half shutout.
Royce Freeman added two more rushing touchdowns, one of five yards and one of three yards bringing his total rushing touchdowns to four.
Carter threw two touchdown passes in the second half.Â A nineteen yard dart to Dajon Staton on fourth down to give the Tigers the lead and a three yard screen touchdown pass to Freeman which served as the nail on the coffin and put the Tigers up 39-28 late in the fourth.
The 24-0 second half run handed the Imperial Tigers their ninth win of the season in nine games and a record of 3-0 in IVL.
As for the total stats of the night, Royce Freeman had a whopping thirty-eight carries for 311 yard, four rushing touchdowns and a touchdown reception.Â His four rushing touchdowns give him a career total of 106, tying the CIF San Diego Section record.
Chris Carter finished the night with 17 rushes for 72 yards and a touchdown along with 95 yards on 9 of 15 passing and two touchdowns.
â€œWe didnâ€™t play Tiger football the first half, but we came out and played Tiger football the second half and thatâ€™s what made the difference both sides of the ball,â€ said Imperial Tiger coach Kerry Legarra after the game.Â â€œThey did a great, great job.â€
Next week the Palo Verde Yellowjackets will visit the Imperial Tigers on Thursday night in the regular season finale for both teams.