MISSION VIEJO, Calif. — In a heavyweight prizefight between evenly matched fighters, the winner usually is the one that can absorb the big blows and then bounce back to deliver his own.
No. 3 IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.) absorbed a 14-0 blow by No. 14 Centennial (Corona, Calif.) before being able to start throwing its own knockout blows and eventually surviving a 50-49 shootout Saturday to cap the 2016 Honor Bowl.
The tale of the tape — 99 points, five ties, two lead changes and more than 1,000 yards in total offense with both teams topping the 500-yard mark.
The game wasn’t decided until IMG went for a two-point conversion for the win with 12 seconds remaining rather than kicking the extra point and going for the tie and overtime.
“It wasn’t really the type of game we wanted,” IMG coach Kevin Wright said.
“They are a tremendous football team and we knew whoever had the ball last was going to win.”
After falling behind 14-0 early in the second quarter, IMG was able to rally behind Texas A&M quarterback commit Kellen Mond.
Mond ran for a score and then passed for a touchdown to send the two teams to the locker room tied at 14, but the highlights were just beginning.
“We had to just keep fighting,” said Mond. “We all woke up early, because we knew it was Game Day, so we were a little tired, but we knew we had to get after it.”
The game ended around 10:30 p.m. Pacific Time, which meant it was 1:30 a.m. in Florida, where the team left on Friday to head to Southern California.
Both teams continued to trade blows in the second half with IMG jumping-out to a 21-14 lead early in the third on Mond’s second of four touchdown passes. That was followed by ties at 21, 28, 35 and 42.
Centennial took its first lead since 14-7 with 1:06 remaining in the game on a Miles Reed 6-yard TD run, which gave the Huskies a 49-42 lead.
IMG allowed Reed to score in order to get the ball back with enough time two try to drive for a tying score.
“It’s always a roll of the dice to let them score,” Wright said.
Centennial coach Matt Logan had considered going for a two-point conversion, but decided to kick the extra point for the seven-point lead.
IMG got the ball at its own 20 and drove the field, helped by a Centennial penalty, to cut the lead to one when Mond connected with Brian Hightower for a 38-yard touchdown with 12 seconds remaining. It was a sweet homecoming for Hightower, who previously played at Calabasas in Southern California.
That’s when Wright decided to go for the two-point conversion and the win.
“There was no doubt,” Wright said. “We travelled this far, so we were going for two on that one.”
Mond’s shovel pass to Asa Martin worked perfectly and proved to be the knockout punch in the 50-49 win.
“We’ve had that play in for a long time, probably since the start of the season,” said Martin, who also had two touchdowns. “I knew it was going to be wide open (shovel pass), because they’re next expecting it.”
“It was a great play call,” Mond said. “We’ve had that two-point play set for about three weeks now and we were waiting for this moment.”
That ended Centennial’s attempt to be the first team to beat IMG since St. John’s (Washington, D.C.) in October 2014. Wright has not lost in his 11 games at IMG.
“We definitely battled and competed, so I’m happy with that,” said Logan. “We made way too many mistakes, especially some dumb penalties. We’re not going to see another team like this, so it’s definitely prepared us for the rest of the year.”
Logan described Reed as a “warrior” after carrying the ball 40 times for 162 yards and three touchdowns. Tanner McKee, who is a junior, threw for 361 yards with three touchdown passes to Xavier Marshall, who ended the game with 13 receptions for 204 yards.
Mond finished with four TDs passing for more than 400 yards passing and ran for another. According to IMG, he became the first passer in school history to throw for at least 300 yards in a game.
Next up for IMG (2-0) is a game against Booker T. Washington from Tulsa. That game is part of the Battle on the Border High School Football Showcase in Shreveport, La., next weekend. Centennial will play Orange Lutheran from Southern California’s ultra-tough Trinity League on Friday.