Coming off back-to-back unbeaten seasons, host IMG Academy picked up where it left off Thursday night with a dominating 49-20 victory against Clermont East Ridge.
And the outcome could have been even more one-sided if not for the Ascenders going 1 for 6 on fourth-down conversion attempts.
Three times IMG Academy came within a touchdown of leading by 35 points, which in the second half would have led to a running clock. In each instance, however, the Knights scored to stay alive.
The Ascenders scored the game’s first 28 points, but after that the teams traded touchdowns the rest of the way. Starting quarterback Zack Annextad had touchdown passes on two of IMG’s first four scoring drives, connecting with Jalen Jordan for 18 and 5 yards, respectively.
Backup quarterbacks Bryson Lucero and Artur Sitkowski also got playing time. Lucero closed the scoring with a 35-yard pass to Will Huggins to account for the final margin.
The Ascenders had success in all phases of the game, including the ground game with Sitkowski and Tate Jernigan each rushing for a touchdown. Special teams also factored into the scoring equation with Brendan Radley-Hiles returning a kickoff 88 yards for a touchdown and Parks Cochrane scooping up the football after a blocked field goal and returning it 75 yards for another score.
Defensively, Radley-Hiles made East Ridge quarterbacks pay for attempting deep passes downfield with two interceptions. The Ascenders also got two sacks from Xavier Thomas and one from Taron Vincent.
Trailing 28-0, East Ridge got on the board on a trick play with Justin Watkins running 65 yards down the right sideline on a hook-and-ladder play from quarterback Zack Conde to Josh Colston, who caught the pass and pitched the ball to Watkins.