Hand it to Henderson. Give it to Guidry.
The defending state Class 5A champ Independence Eagles shook the rust off, and broke in their new cleats Friday, opening the year at home by coming from behind to beat Brentwood, 21-20.
Two of the Eagles first three drives ended in Troy Henderson touchdowns, the first a pass and the second a run, set up by long, leaping catches by Landon Guidry.
Henderson, quick and tough, finished with 90 yards and three touchdowns, two rushing, one receiving.
“We always believe that our team will come out on top,” the 5′ 10″, 170-pound junior halfback said. “I have all the faith in my line, and I believe in our team, and we just had to convince ourselves- there was still time on the clock, there were four quarters to play.”
His third touchdown, which put Indy up 21-20 with 5:10 to go in the fourth quarter, turned a potential Bruins upset into a gut-check, reach-deep teachable moment for coach Scott Blade and the talented but inexperienced Eagles.
“We knew we’d see a tough, tough match up,’ said Blade, who was named Tennessee Titans High School Coach of the year for 2015 after piloting the Eagles to a perfect season last year. “We missed out on some opportunities and dropped more balls than we wanted to drop. But all that being said, we are proud of our team. We lost our momentum and gave up 20 points unanswered. And the kids fought back, and that is what we are going to build on. Obviously we know it is the first game, a lot of mistakes, but at the end of the day we did just enough to win.”
As time ran out in the first quarter, the Eagles led 14-0 and looked every bit the defending champions, despite the graduation of key starters at practically every skill position- new faces started Friday at quarterback, running back, and the top-three wide receiver positions.
But the second and third quarters were a different story entirely. After four possessions and four punts in the first quarter, the Bruins bent back against the storm. Starting his first game, 6-foot, 172-pound junior quarterback Carson Shacklett led a Bruins comeback, first with his arm- throwing a 21-yard touchdown to senior wide receiver Will Leone halfway through the second quarter, then with his his legs, putting together key scrambles and capitalizing on an interception thrown by Brandon Hines to cap a late-2nd quarter drive with a 7-yard touchdown run.
Shacklett also threw a beautiful 18-yard fade to Christian LeBreche, the huge 6-foot-6, 217-pound tight end, at 6:27 in the third quarter to give the Bruins a 20-14 lead with the extra point.
Leading the Bruins’ 20-0 run from the start of the second quarter to halfway through the fourth quarter, he showed poise and speed, and finished the night 11-of-24 for 148 yards with 2 touchdowns and an interception. He also led the Bruins in rushing, with 101 yards and a score on 17 carries.
Leading 20 to 14 with less six minutes left in the fourth quarter, a bad possession- after a holding call, they ended up in a fourth-and-20 situation punting out of their own end zone- ended with a worse punt.
The Eagles took over from the Brentwood 14-yard line, where the punt had shanked right and out of bounds, and less than a minute later Henderson ended the Bruin’s upset hopes.
It is a spirited and useful loss for the Bruins, who open their season the same way against the same with the same result as 2015, but unlike last year, when they lost 47-17 to Indy in the opener, they led for more than half the game and nearly knocked the kings off their hill.
“I think we made more mistakes than they made,” said Brentwood head coach Ron Crawford. “That was the bottom line, we made too many mistakes to win against a good football team. And they made some too. Right there at the end we couldn’t sustain anything. They have some weapons on offense, so it is difficult to contain them.”
Speaking of those weapons, Guidry, the 6-foot-1, 190-pound senior and leading receiver for the Eagles, showed flashes of the explosiveness Michigan’s Nate Johnson brought last year that made the Eagles so drop-dead dangerous. He had key catches, all long bombs, on the three Independence scoring drives.
Brandon Hines, the senior quarterback in his first start filling the size-shoes of departed QB Andrew Bunch, threw a mixed game but showed much promise, showing signs that he will only improve as running the offense becomes more comfortable and instinctual in real-time. He finished 21-of-38 for 298 yards a touchdown and an interception.
The Bruins out-rushed the Eagles, 184 yards to 125, but threw for more than a hundred fewer yard, with 148 passing.
Each team turned the ball over three times: each with an interception and two fumbles. The second Bruin fumble came with less than three minutes left, ending their last drive and chance at an upset. Indy played the clock, from there, holding the ball and the win.