Royce Freeman

Imperial High running back Royce Freeman runs the ball against La Jolla High while a Vikings defender tries to bring him down Friday night in Imperial. (STEVEN ESPERANZA PHOTOS / November 10, 2012)


IMPERIAL — Suddenly, Friday the 16th of November became a whole lot more interesting for fans of Imperial Valley and CIF-San Diego Section Division IV football.

That’s because Imperial High’s 34-20 defeat over the visiting La Jolla High Vikings here Friday night propelled the Tigers to a second-round faceoff with Brawley Union High.

“Their coaches had them very well-prepared for us,” Imperial coach Kerry Legarra said of the Vikings. “They have a very good football team.

“They hit us in the mouth, but we bounced right back,” he said. “It’s nice that we didn’t have an easy win going into next week.”

After falling 35-21 to the 2012 Imperial Valley League champion Brawley Union High Wildcats a month ago, the Tigers outscored their final three IVL opponents 174-21.

But La Jolla, despite having a 3-7 record, was not going to go away quietly.

Imperial struck first with the first of four Royce Freeman rushing touchdowns. He scored from 20, 10, 23 and 2 yards out en route to a career-high 32 carries that netted him 251 yards.

The Vikings found an effective combination of runs by A.J. Talman, David McColl, and Kenneth Martey, who ran 16 times for 146 yards and two touchdowns.

But the Tiger defense stepped up when it counted the most, as Imperial was able to withstand La Jolla to force a rematch with the Wildcats.

“Defensively when we needed a stop, we got a stop and that’s what matters,” Legarra said.

A week after breaking former Wildcats running back Zay Sheppard’s IVL career rushing yards record, on Friday Freeman broke Sheppard’s IVL record for rushing yardage in a single season.

He now has 4,667 yards, which is good enough for 14th place in CIF-San Diego Section — one spot behind former Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams.

His four touchdowns against La Jolla moved Freeman in sixth place in CIF-San Diego Section for points scored with 466, vaulting current Miami Dolphins running back Reggie Bush in the process.

A 20-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter from quarterback Chris Carter to fellow junior Dajon Staton not only bolstered Imperial’s lead but gave Staton the school record for reception touchdowns (12), surpassing Kenny Jackson and Darren Ross.

Carter is now second in the school’s record books with 30 passing touchdowns, just shy of Jon Van Zandt’s record of 32.

“I’m awful proud of our players,” Legarra said. “I’ve never been prouder.

“This is the most cohesive, best football team I’ve been associated with,” he said.

The Tigers’ impending showdown with the Wildcats, who had a bye as the No. 3 seed in Division IV last Friday, is sure to repeat as the No. 1 local game to watch this year.

“Next week is at the top of our list this year of most important games,” Freeman said.

“There are many things we can improve on, on all sides of the ball,” he said. “I believe this game did a good job of showing us how we shape up for our next game.”

Imperial (9-2, 4-1 IVL) will play at Brawley (9-1, 5-0 IVL) on Warne Field at 7 p.m. Friday.