By ZACH HARMUTH Photos by DOUG HOSLER
If you cut out the last two minutes of the first half in Independence’s 41-17 homecoming victory versus Stewarts Creek on Friday night, the headline for the night could be how evenly matched the teams looked.
The Eagles (5-0, 3-0 Region 5-5A) and Red Hawks (4-3, 3-1 Region 5-5A) scored on four consecutive possessions in the third quarter, when Eagle wide receiver TJ Sheffield scored the last two of his three touchdowns of the night on a 30-yard catch then an 80-yard kick return.
Red Hawk running back Keshawn Walker, rising to the challenge, preceded Sheffield’s second score with a 60-yard touchdown run and third with a 65-yard run that set up a score. Both Stewarts Creek scores cut the Eagles’ lead to 10; both Sheffield scores bumped it back to 17.
But the crucible of the game came when that 17-point lead first emerged- in those last two minutes of the first half. Two minutes in which Sheffield (8 catches, 122 yards, 2 TDs) scored and the Red Hawks missed a field goal and lost a fumble.
Before that, Indy head coach Scott Blade was concerned about the opposing offense.
“Their Wing-T/option gave us problems throughout the game, but we were able to adjust enough to give us a chance to get them off the field and score some points,” he said.
The Redhawks had three players rush for at least 100 yards, ran for 392 as a team and attempted just six passes.
Likewise, the Redhawks defense had trouble with the Independence offense, which put up 319 passing, 80 rushing, and 399 total yards.
Running back Troy Henderson scored on a 60-yard pass for the game’s first touchdown at 8:07 in the first quarter, to give the Eagles a 7-3 lead. Stewarts Creek had kicked a field goal for the game’s first points on the previous possession. Henderson (10 carries, 65 yards; 2 catches, 141 yards, 3 total TDs) scored again on a short run 11:00 in the second.
With the Eagles up 13-3 (Indy missed its second extra point attempt), the clock wound down below two minutes in the first half.
Stewarts Creek, second place place in Region 5-5A coming in against first-place Indy, lined up for a field goal at the 11-yard line with 1:41 left in the second quarter. After forcing a field goal attempt in the first quarter, Indy did so again.
It went wide right.
But the Redhawks quickly forced a punt and got the ball back on their own 13-yard line with 0:37 left in the half.
Then, with Tre Balliez (11 carries, 100 yards) following blockers around the edge, Eagle cornerback Cole Huner punched in at the ball to cause a fumble.
Cornerback Montray Steele recovered for Independence. Two quick plays later, Sheffield stood in the end zone after a 13-yard catch that created a 20-3 Eagles’ lead and completed a 10-point swing in less than two minutes.
“They had two swinging guards, and as they came around Cole got his hand in and the ball popped out,” said Steele. “I just recovered it as fast as I could. We had been preparing for this offense for days, and the wing-T offense is one that we really have to pay attention to and be disciplined about.”
Walker’s 60-yard touchdown run cut the lead to 10 on the Red Hawks’ first drive of the third quarter with 7:45 left.
Independence responded quickly.
Sheffield caught a 30-yard pass from Brandon Hines (14-28, 299 yards, 4 TDs, INT), pushing the lead back to 17 with 5:45 left in the third, 27-10.
Then Walker, again, streaked outside for 65 yards getting caught at the one by Steele and Huner. Redhawk short-yardage specialist Zaccheus Long then got in with 4:45 left, 27-17.
Sheffield, not to be outdone, of course returned the ensuing kickoff 80-yards to bump it to 17 again, 34-17, Eagles, with two minutes left in third.
Things slowed down after that.
After trading a few possessions, the back breaker came, as Henderson broke free for 80 yards and his third score of the night with 6:46 left in the game.
Down 41-17, Stewarts Creek didn’t and couldn’t recover.
Independence hosts Shelbyville Central (5-1, 2-1) Thursday.
|Stewarts Creek High School||3||0||0||14||17|
|Independence High School||7||13||14||7||41|