IMPERIAL — The Imperial High football team clinched at least a share of the Imperial Valley League crown with a 49-3 victory over visiting Southwest High here Friday night.
“I thought once we got going we played very well,” Imperial coach Kerry Legarra said. “You have to tip your hat to Southwest; they came out and they stuck it to us.
It was a tough battle early in the game as the Southwest Eagles were very physical along the offensive and defensive lines.
As a result, the Imperial Tigers did not score until 4:02 left in the first quarter, when sophomore fullback Royce Freeman found an open gap for an 11-yard touchdown.
The struggle continued until the second quarter, when Imperial blew the game wide open.
It began with a 48-yard catch-and-run by Freeman from sophomore quarterback Chris Carter for a score and continued with a 55-yard interception return for a touchdown by Freeman. Freeman had a 2-point conversion run after each of those scores.
Tiger defensive lineman Julian Lopez picked up a Southwest fumble midway through the second quarter, and one play later Carter connected with senior receiver Marcelluz Smith for a 20-yard touchdown.
Senior Quinten Likos chimed in for Imperial with an 8-yard touchdown run that was followed by a two-point conversion from Carter to sophomore receiver Dajon Staton.
Smith intercepted a Southwest pass late in the first half, but on the first ensuing play Ricky Osuna recovered an Imperial fumble to set up a 25-yard Eagle field goal by Steve Seaman.
Freeman found the end zone a fourth time when he took a direct snap and ran through the defense 67 yards to the end zone.
Just two minutes later, Carter completed his third touchdown pass, this time to Staton, who went 65 yards for the score, followed by a David Felix PAT.
“Both teams came out with a lot of firepower at the beginning,” Freeman (13 carries for 188 yards) said. “Once we found our groove, we just kept going.
“The line opens things up really well to allow us to get what we need to get done offensively,” he said.
In addition to excellent offensive line play by the Tigers, their defense stepped up once again and helped Imperial create a running-clock situation for the third straight week.
“We did what we had to do and we succeeded, we dominated,” junior linebacker Victor Ponce (14 tackles) said. “We had mistakes here and there but we picked it up in the second half, and now we want that championship.”
The Tigers now find themselves in a previously foreign position — a guaranteed share of the IVL title and a shot at taking it all.
“I’m extremely proud of them,” Legarra said. “Our kids realized they have a chance to win this championship outright, and they settled down and started playing Tiger football, and the results showed.”
Southwest (3-6, 0-4 IVL) will finish the season hosting Calexico High at 7 p.m. Thursday night.
Imperial (7-2, 4-0 IVL) will host Palo Verde Valley High in a bid for the IVL crown at the same time and day.