Zephyrhills gave up a pair of touchdowns and couldn’t get its offense moving in the first quarter and that was the difference as the Bulldogs fell to IMG Academy White 36-22.
In a steady rain, the Bulldogs played even with the Ascenders in the final three quarters, but the opening quarter was frustrating as Zephyrhills fell to 2-2 on the season.
IMG White, part of the IMG Sports Academy football program’s three teams, rolled into Bulldog Stadium with 70 players while Coach Nick Carroll dressed 33 varsity players.
“That team is a well-coached football team,” Carroll said of the Ascenders. “We were able to sustain drives and move the football. I’m proud of our kids. They fought to the end.
“There are 70 of those guys and 33 of us. Our guys have nothing to be ashamed off.”
The difference in roster size didn’t seem to matter much as the Bulldogs ran with, and sometimes through, the Ascenders.
Sophomore DJ Pickett had another strong game for the Bulldogs with a receiving touchdown and an interception.
IMG two plays on its second drive to light up the scoreboard first when IMG quarterback Parker Leise hit with a 44-yard TD pass to John Holbrook the extra point was no good to make it 6-0. Leise, on the next drive, found Holbrooke again for a 56-yard touchdown pass for another score. The PAT was good and the Ascenders jumped out to a 13-0 lead.
The IMG defense put points on the board when they sacked Bulldog quarterback Brendyn Colella in the end zone for a safety for a 15-0 lead. Zephyrhills’ offense was held to just seven yards and one first down in the first quarter.
Colella left the game with a knee injury on the next Zephyrhills drive. Sophomore Tristan Lennon entered the game and provided some spark as a running quarterback. Lennon capped off a drive filled with strong runs by Rodney Smith and Maddox Rivera with a one-yard plunge to put Zephyrhills on the board trailing 15-7.
The Ascenders added a TD late in the first half for a 22-7 lead at halftime.
“We battled the whole game,” Rivera said. “We came out in the second half and we turned it around and kept it going. We kept up with them, but it wasn’t the outcome we wanted.”
Lennon pulled the Bulldogs closer at 22-15 with the 15-yard TD pass to Pickett in the team’s first drive of the second half.
IMG went up 29-15 in the third quarter, but the Bulldogs answered with Rivera plowed into the end zone on a one-yard to close the gap at 29-22. IMG extended the lead at 36-22 on another TD in the fourth quarter.
The Bulldogs had a drive going, but Lennon’s pass to Pickett in the end zone was picked off and that closed the book on the Bulldogs.