CHULA VISTA — The Imperial Tigers ended their 2019 football season much as they began it on Friday night: losing a tough game to a quality opponent, with untimely turnovers and broken plays playing a major role.
Going up against the Mater Dei Catholic Crusaders in the first round of the CIF-SDS Division III playoffs, the talented Tigers had some definite highlights, but they ultimately weren’t enough but they were more than counterbalanced by their gaffes in a 33-19 defeat.
The Crusaders were always going to be a tough nut for Imperial to crack. The Catholic school was on the strong side of the 6 vs. 11 seed matchup after all, and had picked up a substantial amount of momentum with a three-game winning streak to close out the regular season.
Yes, the Crusaders were without the services of starting quarterback Trevor Appelman (2,109 yards and 25 TDs), owing to a separated shoulder, but backup Raymond Romero was more than capable of picking up the slack and Mater Dei had plenty of other weapons besides.
One of those weapons, running back Daniel Jazo, got the Crusaders on the board early with a 70-yard touchdown run in the first quarter to make it 7-0.
Mater Dei widened its lead early to 13-0 (a PAT was no good) in the second with a 28-yard pass from Romero to Darren Barkins before the Tigers were able to answer with some points of their own on a 15-yard touchdown pass from Jordan Reed to Jacob Gray.
At 13-7, the game was far from unmanageable for Imperial at this point, but the Tigers simply couldn’t string together the right combination of points and stops.
The two teams exchanged another couple of TDs to end the second and start the third quarters, with Romero connecting with Jessie Campbell from 3 yards out and Jesus Padilla running one in for the Tigers from 5 to make it 20-13 before the Crusaders landed a back-breaker in the form of a 58-yard TD run from Aidan Calvert to go up 27-13 late in the third.
Calvert was the Crusaders’ weapon of choice to close things out. He finished with 168 yards on the night.
Imperial was able to tack on six more points in the fourth (a two-point attempt failed) with another Jordan Reed TD toss (this one 23-yards to Brenten Adams), but Mater Dei was able to nullify that score with two field goals sandwiched around an interception of Reed by linebacker Malcolm Brown on the Mater Dei 2-yard line that effectively sealed the deal for the Crusaders.
The loss gives the Tigers a final record of 5-6 on the year, a somewhat disappointing finish for a team with as many virtues as this one had. However, they managed only a 1-4 record in one-score games and a 1-5 record on the road.
Still, Imperial would seem to be looking at a better tomorrow, if they can keep all of their talent in house, that is.
Quarterback Reed is only a junior, and should be the top returning signal-caller in the Valley by a comfortable margin next year. Tackle leader Ethan Ramos is likewise a junior. As are three fourths of the Tigers starting wideouts in Adams, Gray and Ryan Bonillas, along with the bulk of their offensive line, which at times this year has as many as three sophomores on it (Wolfgang Horner, Kye Bishop, Hector Garcia).
They’ll miss the contributions of all-time leading receiver Joey Ramos, top RB Padilla and defenders like James Ponce and Sergio Serrano, but by and large, they’re looking all right for 2020.