Independence Comes Back Against Franklin

Williamson County FootballBy Zachary Harmuth

The star player for Independence kept them in the game Friday night against Franklin with a kickoff return for a touchdown and a 50 yard punt return, but it was the sophomore quarterback,  off the bench, who came in and organized a game winning drive.

With less than three minutes left, Andrew Bunch, who had replaced Caleb Hollis, led the Eagles on a 13 play, 59 yard drive that did not try to hide what it was doing- 13 plays, 13 passes- that ended with an 11 yard pass to Dion Simms in the end zone to tie the game with 11 seconds left.

The PAT was good, and the Eagles won, 29-28, in a game that saw them down by 18 points almost halfway through the third.

A heartbreaking loss for Franklin (7-2, 3-2 in AAA District 11), who now has dropped two straight, going from first to third in district in two weeks. But an encouraging win for Independence (6-3, 4-1 in AAA District 11), who now takes sole possession of second place in AAA District 11, behind Ravenwood.

If it had not been for Vic Wharton III, the Eagles never would have gotten in a position to have a game winning drive, on this very cold night in this very long game.

At the end of the first quarter,  Independence had not been able to move the ball well at all against the stout Rebel defense.  Tony Flemister had just scored for Franklin from a Joe Critchlow pass.  But then Franklin kicked off and gave Wharton a chance to return the ball, which , it turns out, was a mistake.

Wharton took the kick, running in a big S-pattern up the left sideline then dissapearing in a crowd then reappearing running all the way across the field from the Franklin bench to the Eagle bench, 22 players trailing him, then cutting up field againg, he ran 98 yards (but more like 150) for the score, to make it a 7 to 7 tie.

Later on, when It was 28 to 16 with 8:48 left in the fourth quarter,  Franklin punted to Vic Wharton. He took it 49 yards, setting up a score by Brandon Murdick on the next play with a 24 yard run, to put the Eagles within six points of Franklin (22-28, as Indy went for two and failed).

Kicking to Wharton, it turns, out, was a big mistake. In fact, Franklin elected to kick the ball out of bounds most of the game rather than give Wharton a chance. A big reason the Eagles were able to score the game winning touchdown was because that drive started at their own 45- great field position because the Rebels decided to punt it out of bounds rather than anywhere near Wharton.

The Rebels played a  solid game, and looked like the better, dominant team for most of it. They possessed the ball almost twice as long as the Eagles- 31:14 to 16:46. They were led by Critchlow who passed 12 of 16 for 174 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Colton Black added 108 yards and a score on 31 carries. Malik Grimes had three big catches for 65 yards.

But it all was not enough, as Wharton and Bunch took over for the Eagles in the second half, scoring the last 21 points of the game.

The third star of the game, for Independence, was Rashaan Gaulden. He had a crucial fourth down reception the the game winning drive, and finished with a game high 120 receiving yards on nine catches.  Bunch finished with 10 of 24 passing for 101 yards and a TD. Hollis, who he replaced, finished with 11 of 17 passing for 131 yards passing, but no TDs and one interception.