SAN DIEGO- In a rematch of last year’s 50-49 Honor Bowl thriller, won by IMG Academy, the Ascenders clashed with Corona Centennial for round two. Played on a neutral field at San Diego’s Cathedral High School, IMG outlasted Centennial by a final score of 40-20.
Midway through the first quarter, with both teams scoreless, Centennial had a solid drive in progress towards midfield. In an instant, however, things began to look bleak for the Huskies. Starting quarterback Tanner McKee went down with a rolled ankle, and sophomore backup Ala Mikaele was forced into action against one of the best defenses in the nation. Despite going three and out from that point, Centennial knocked in a 43-yard field goal to take a 3-0 lead.
The Centennial defense responded with a huge second down sack for a loss of 17, and after an IMG incompletion on 3rd and 15, the Ascenders were forced to punt. Back to receive, Centennial fumbled at the 21-yard line and IMG recovered to take possession. Four plays later, IMG converted on a 38-yard field goal to tie the score.
To end the first quarter, junior running back Thomas Kinslow dashed from midfield into IMG territory for a 25-yard gain, putting Centennial in scoring position.
On a crucial third down at the start of the second quarter, Kinslow finished off Centennial’s drive with a 22-yard touchdown run to give the Huskies a 10-3 advantage.
With just over six minutes remaining in the half, IMG’s Artur Sitkowski threw a timely 18-yard touchdown pass to Miami-commit Brian Hightower, tying the game at 10.
Minutes later, after forcing Centennial into another fourth and long punt, IMG regained possession and drove the ball right down the field to take a 17-10 lead, thanks to a 23-yard touchdown reception by senior wideout Jalen Jordan.
For Centennial, Mikaele was struggling in place of the injured McKee, and IMG’s defense took full advantage. Cornerback and University of Nebraska-commit Brendan Radley-Hiles picked off Mikaele and returned it for a touchdown, giving IMG a 24-10 lead.
The next offensive snap for Centennial, with just over one minute left in the second quarter, Mikaele took a nasty helmet-to-helmet hit and was taken off the field by stretcher. Down to their third string quarterback, senior Arturo Herrera, the Huskies were in dire position. Trailing by 14 points, they needed a spark.
Herrera gave it to them. He completed a 45-yard bomb on his first pass, and Kinslow followed with a 16-yard rushing touchdown to bring Centennial within one score. Down 24-17 at the half, Centennial had regained momentum and played inspiring football, against a national powerhouse.
Both teams opened up the third quarter with stout defense, but Centennial suffered a costly mistake. Off a deep punt, IMG downed the Huskies inside their own 1-yard line. Moments after, Radley-Hiles sacked Mikaele in the endzone for a safety, putting IMG up 26-17.
Starting the fourth quarter, Centennial advanced into IMG territory but failed to score a touchdown. They came away with three, closing the gap to 26-20. With just over six minutes left, however, Alabama-commit Trey Sanders ended all hopes for a Centennial comeback, rushing for an electrifying 75-yard touchdown. Just minutes later, Sanders broke off again and scored on a 65-yard touchdown run.
While IMG finished off Centennial by 20 points, the Huskies showed tremendous fight and were able to stay competitive despite an injury-riddled offense.
“I’m not sure when I’ll be back, but I’m really proud of the way we continued to fight and finished out this game,” McKee said.
Kinslow rushed for a total of 134 yards and two scores, winning Centennial’s Most Valuable Player award for the Honor Bowl. Herrera took home Character Award honors as well for Centennial.
Radley-Hiles captured the MVP for IMG, totaling two interceptions and one touchdown. Hightower added a touchdown, and Sitkowski won the Character Award for the Ascenders.