IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.) football coach Kevin Wright has some real concerns heading into his team’s game Saturday night with Centennial (Corona, Calif.).
Getting anywhere on the ground will be difficult. Plus, you have to worry that going through the air will be dangerous, if it’s at all possible. Playing the No. 14 Huskies will be really difficult too, but we’re simply talking about the trip to Mission Viejo, Calif., for the Honor Bowl.
No. 3 IMG is scheduled to fly Friday out of Tampa, then to Atlanta and then to Los Angeles, but with tropical storm Hermine expected to be upgraded to the first Florida hurricane in 11 years, there’s a possibility the Ascenders won’t be able to make the nearly 2,600-mile voyage.
“Our kids are on lockdown right now,” Wright said. “We were out earlier trying to practice in the rain and we watched as the wind came and blew a tent out of concrete bolts. The Sunshine Skyway Bridge that we normally would take to get to the airport in Tampa is closed. We’re going to do everything we can to try to get out to the West Coast. We’ll know a lot more tomorrow.”
If the game does happen, Centennial poses a unique challenge. The Huskies have shown the ability to score on anybody. Last week, they made their way into the rankings with a 56-49 defeat of then-No. 22 Chandler, Ariz., as quarterback Tanner McKee ran for four touchdowns and passed for 377 yards and two touchdowns.
Over the past three seasons, Centennial has averaged 51 points a game with its hurry-up spread offense.
“They will try to run 70-80 plays and press the tempo of the game,” Wright said. “Doing that, they can neutralize a team that has big bodies. They are very good offensively. The big splits they use, I think is something you don’t see much in high school. They spread you out and it’s harder to pass rush and still stop their running game.”
IMG has 23 players in ESPN’s Top 300 for 2016 and 2017, so that level of depth poses its own challenges for Centennial.
“We’ve played teams that have been immensely talented before,” Centennial coach Matt Logan said. “In 2012, we played Narbonne (Harbor City, Calif.), I think 10 of their 12 defensive starters had Division I scholarships. We played Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas) in 2014. We played (St. John) Bosco (Bellflower, Calif.) in 2014 . We played Serra (Gardena, Calif.), that same year and Bosco the past few years. We know what it’s like to play teams like that. We’ve played Long Beach Poly, which has no shortage of Division I athletes. We’ve seen athletes like this before, but maybe not collectively from top to bottom this deep and even their kicker is incredible.”
The Ascenders (1-0) will likely try to use their dominant offensive line, which averages 6-5 and 325 pounds, to boost their running game and keep Centennial off the field. However, matching the Huskies (1-0) score-for-score isn’t easy. While IMG’s defense has been stellar, the Ascenders’ offense has started slowly twice this season. IMG only had 74 yards of offense in the first half of its 17-7 preseason defeat of Carol City (Miami) and it trailed 7-0 to Grayson (Loganville, Ga.) last week before scoring 26 consecutive points. Ascenders quarterback Kellen Mond had his hand in all of his team’s touchdowns against Grayson with two touchdown runs and a passing touchdown.
“They have the ability to score from anywhere on the field with the athletes they have and the huge offensive line they have,” Logan said. “Hopefully, they won’t put it together this week, but they haven’t been as impressive on offense as they have been on defense.”
While some teams have shied away from playing IMG, Logan sees the game as a plus.
“I think flat-out playing them is going to make us a better team,” Logan said. “It will help prepare us for the league and the playoffs.”