By SAM McGAW
Extreme Escape Games Game of the Week
Hillsboro (7-4) at Independence (11-0), 7 p.m. Friday
Last year’s quarterfinal matchup against Hillsboro was the toughest test Independence endured during its dominant run to a Class 5A state title last year.
The 28-20 win by Indy was the only time it didn’t defeat an opponent by 14 points or more.
The Burros will look to give the Eagles another run for their money in a second-round bout Friday.
“They have tremendous athletes on both sides of the ball,” Independence head coach Scott Blade said. “They have speed and quickness that we don’t see a whole lot of during the year. They’re a team that’s used to winning and knows how to win. They can create some matchup issues.”
Just like last year, Independence has been close to unstoppable.
Led by quarterback Brandon Hines and his arsenal of playmakers, the Eagles’ offense averages 41 points per game.
HInes has passed for 2,378 yards, 27 touchdowns and eight interceptions this season.
His top weapons are running back Troy Henderson (676 rush yds, 318 rec. yds, 18 TDs) and receivers Landon Guidry (704 rec. yds, 358 rush yds, 12 TDs), TJ Sheffield (535 rec. yds, 295 rush yds, 13 TDs) and Kendrell Scurry (526 rec. yds, 8 TDs).
The group will be met by a lot of resistance from Hillsboro’s talented defense.
The unit is averaging 7.2 points allowed over the past five games.
“They are really going to challenge us with their athleticism and speed,” Blade said. “Their defensive line is so quick and athletic, and they get off the ball so fast. They run to the ball better than any team we’ve seen this year. Then, they have corners and safeties that can lock down on receivers.”
Hillsboro’s offense features a dynamic playmaker in slot receiver JaVonta Payton.
The senior has registered 431 receiving yards, 430 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns this year.
He’s one of several weapons the Burros possess on an offense that’s averaging 40 points over the last five games.
“They can do a little bit of everything on offense,” Blade stated. “They roll with a couple of different quarterbacks, they have terrific skill players and an offensive line that really gets off the ball. It’s going to take disciplined game from our defense to be able to slow it down, because they can strike at any time.”
Independence gives up an average of 13.27 PPG. It hasn’t allowed more than 21 points in a game all year.
The biggest key to its success this year has been its play in the trenches.
Led by defensive end David Demke and defensive tackle Michael Weathers, the Eagles have recorded 46 sacks and 35 tackles for loss this season.
Demke has a team-high 101 tackles and 14 sacks, while Weathers has 59 tackles (10 for loss) and 10 sacks.
The Eagles need the duo to disrupt Hillsboro’s flow on offense throughout the evening.
“They’ve been real instrumental,” Blade said. “Michael Weathers plays the defensive tackle position, which is designed to get single-blocked on pass plays, and he has really done a terrific job. David Demke has picked up where he left off last year. He has really anchored down that side of the defensive line really well.”
The winner of Friday’s matchup will face either Beech or Cane Ridge.
Sam McGaw is sports editor of Home Page Media Group. Email him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @SamMcGawSports.