Two things about the East High football schedule jumped out, indicating the Leopards were striving to excel beyond their regular confines.
One was a leap to the new Class 6A to play against the state’s largest schools. While it remains to be seen how East will do in the playoffs, an early test against top-ranked Bingham ended in a 31-point loss.
The other indicator was the letters IMG on the last line of the 2017 slate.
And that bill came due Friday.
IMG Academy of Bradenton, Fla., ranked second in the country by both MaxPreps and USA Today, traveled to East and left with a 43-19 victory over the Leopards after a tight first half.
The boarding school, which sprouted from Nick Bollettieri’s tennis camp in the late 1970s, pulled away from a 22-19 halftime lead.
“Great atmosphere. We knew that they had a very good football team,” IMG coach Kevin Wright said. “Sometimes teams in this part of the country don’t get the credit they deserve.
“Their offense is tough to stop, but we were able to make some adjustments throughout the course of the game. They had a couple of kids get hurt early, and they’re getting ready for the playoffs. And I think we probably wore them down a little bit.”
What really hurt East (8-2) was the inability to stop the visiting Ascenders in the second half. IMG had 100-yard rushers in Noah Cain (127) and Trey Sanders (102) and an offensive line that featured gargantuan tackles Daniel Faalele (6 foot 8, 400 pounds from Melbourne, Australia) and Evan Neal (6-8, 385 pounds from Stanford, Conn.).
“We didn’t really care about that. Size doesn’t really matter,” said senior Saia Hamilton, a regular on East’s offense and defense. “It’s the heart that matters, and we didn’t have that today.”
IMG ACADEMY 43, EAST 19
• IMG pulls away with three touchdowns after halftime.
• The visiting Ascenders came in ranked second nationally by both USA Today and MaxPreps.
• East, led by Charlie Vincent’s 123 yards, twice grabs the lead in the first half.
But the Leopards, after giving up the first score on a 52-yard run by Sanders, twice came back to hold leads before halftime.
East’s first touchdown was a 5-yard run by Charlie Vincent, who finished with 123 yards rushing, to cut IMG’s lead to 7-6. Sione Molisi scored on a 7-yard TD run to give East a 12-7 lead with 11:13 left in the second quarter.
Molisi left the game before the first half was over, and reserve back Hailame Feletoa gave the home team its last lead, at 19-15, on a 1-yard run with 3:25 left before halftime.
IMG seized the advantage before intermission on a 24-yard pass from Zack Annexstad to Brian Hightower.
The visitors continued to roll in the second half, and tempers began to flare as the margin grew. The teams collectively were hit with five personal fouls — four on IMG — in one four-play sequence.
“We’ve got to clean things up,” Wright said. “It’s a very emotional game. You’re playing a team that’s not used to losing. Same thing — we’re not either.”
East now turns it attention to proving the move to the state’s largest classification was the right move. The Leopards host Northridge in the first round of the playoffs Friday.
“We have a four-game season, hopefully, and the best man wins,” Hamilton said.