By David Wells
Since starting out the season 3-3, Independence has embraced the role of the underdog that helped it to win its last five games.
But after defeating previously unbeaten Overton 17-14 on the road in the second round of the 6A state playoffs, Independence can no longer call itself an underdog.
“It means when we’re playing, we’re pretty good,” said Independence head coach Scot Blade. “Last week it was a 9-1 team, this week an 11-0 team. We took our lumps early in the season, and now we’re playing better.”
Friday’s game highlighted two different offensive philosophies and two teams with Division I commits, with Independence uncharacteristically winning because of its defensive effort.
The Eagles (9-3) allowed 302 rushing yards to the Bobcats (11-1) and gave up two first-half touchdowns, but they held Overton scoreless in the second half, allowing its offense just enough chances to score and get the victory.
After stopping Independence at the 4, Overton had a chance to win the game if it could drive 96 yards in 1:51. But the Eagles didn’t give the Bobcats that chance, sacking quarterback Ugo Amadi for a loss of 6 yards on third down and capitalizing on its inability to pass.
Eagles quarterback Andrew Bunch struggled to connect throughout most of the game, going 10-for-23 yards with a touchdown and an interception, thanks in large part to strong coverage from Overton’s cornerbacks. Rashaan Gaulden, who had five catches for 165 yards in the first round of the playoffs, caught only two passes for 22 yards.
Overton had the momentum for most of the first half. Running back Justin Martin began the game with three carries for 63 yards, including a 21-yard touchdown to open the game.
After Independence kicked a field goal, Overton widened the margin to 14-3 when Martin caught quarterback Ugo Amadi’s only completion for 19 yards and a touchdown.
On the next series, however, the Eagles did what they have been doing all season, scoring in 1:51 thanks to a short field and a 4th-down on conversion fake-punt pass from backup quarterback Caleb Hollis that helped set up Dom Childress’ 1-yard touchdown run as time expired in the first half.
Overton overpowered the Eagles’ defense in the first half, forcing Independence to sometimes put nine defenders in between the tackles to stop the run.
Hollis saw more action in the second half as Blade elected to rest Bunch, who was banged up after two sacks for -10 yards, but not before he led the Eagles down the field 61 yards, culminating in a 1-yard Vic Wharton III touchdown run that gave Independence the lead 17-14.
Independence didn’t seal the victory until the waning seconds of the game, though did have a few chances.
Wharton’s 61-yard punt return touchdown in the fourth quarter was called back because of a block in the back penalty, and it could not score after a short punt from Overton put the Eagles 35 yards shy of the end zone.
Independence will host Hendersonville on Friday at 7 p.m. in the quarterfinals. Hendersonville advanced after beating Station Camp on the road 29-28 in overtime.