Our kids played hard. They believe they can win, and we all believe we can win. I still think we can beat that team. I just don’t think you can make those types of mistakes in those big moments, and we did. You can’t just play 24 minutes, you have to play a full 48. —East head coach Brandon Matich
SALT LAKE CITY — For 24 minutes, it looked like East might just have what it takes to slay high school football’s Goliath.
But a couple of critical mistakes and losing their best offensive player midway through the second quarter turned out to be blows from which the Leopards couldn't recover as they lost 43-19 to IMG Academy (Bradenton, Florida).
“They are a very good football team,” said IMG head coach Kevin Wright, pointing out that teams in this “part of the country may not get the credit they deserve. They’re very talented, very physical. Their offense is tough to stop.”
When IMG score on the first play of their first possession, a 48-yard run by Trey Sanders, it appeared the two-time 4A champs might be in over their heads against the country’s top-ranked prep program.
But on their next possession, the Leopards moved the ball 80 yards behind a ground game that shredded the Ascenders’ defense. It ended in a five-yard touchdown run from Charlie Vincent, but IMG’s Juan Wallace blocked the extra point attempt.
East then stopped IMG, and then scored on a 7-yard run from Sione Molise to give East its first lead, 12-7. The Leopards' 2-point conversion pass play failed.
IMG scored on an almost identical play — 7-yard run from TJ Pledger, which they followed with a two-point conversion pass that worked and gave them a 15-12 lead.
East scored again on a Hailame Feletoa 1-yard run, which was set up by a thrilling pass by Ben Ford who connected with Chase Peterson for a 50-yard strike, after which Peterson gained an extra 10 yards by slowing to shake off three defenders, before being tackled at the 4-yard line.
The Ascenders scored again on an 28-yard pass from quarterback Zack Annexstad to Brian Hightower. At halftime, IMG led East 22-19.
Unfortunately, East lost senior running back Sione Molisi late in the second quarter to a possible knee injury, and it was a different offense without his gritty, relentless running ability.
They also made some critical mistakes including a penalty for too many men on the field that turned a punting situation into a first down for IMG and a fumble on their own three-yard line.
“That was a big deal,” said East head coach Brandon Matich, noting that he felt coaches were to blame for the mistake because they had the wrong personnel on the field. “Our kids played hard. They believe they can win, and we all believe we can win. I still think we can beat that team. I just don’t think you can make those types of mistakes in those big moments, and we did. You can’t just play 24 minutes, you have to play a full 48.”
The second half was all IMG with the final score of 43-19.
The game was plagued by personal foul penalties against IMG, something their coach said he’d like to clean up, but he also understands.
“We've got to clean things up,” he said. “It’s a very emotional game. You’re playing a team that’s not used to losing. We’re not either. We’re used to being very physical, and they are too. Tempers are going to fly. I wish it wasn’t like that, but all I can do is try to watch the tape and try to get better.”
He said he was pleased with the way his team made adjustments at halftime, especially defensively.
“I’m proud of them,” he said. “But it’s definitely a challenge what we ask them to do. They come to IMG they give up a lot of things, but they get to play in games like this in atmospheres like this.”