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Indy hosts Centennial with post-season on the line

Vic Wharton III will be looking for lots of open field tonight when the Independence Eagles host Centennial in a key District 11-AAA contest.  The game, set for a 7:00 p.m. TV kick-off, features three SEC signees and a pair of past state champion head coaches in Indy's Scott Blade and the Cougars' Brian Rector. Photo by Bobby Rutledge, Jr. 

Independence and Centennial have a lot in common. Both have student bodies passionate about their school spirit. Both have dynamic administrations. Both have head football coaches who have state championships at other schools.

And when the Eagles host the Cougars on the gridiron tonight, they will both be fighting for their lives for a post-season play-off spot in District 11-AAA.

Independence (3-3, 2-1 District 11-AAA), sporting three Southeastern Conference signees in Vic Wharton III (UT), RaShaan Gaulden (UT) and Finis Stribling (Missouri), was tabbed in the pre-season to have a cakewalk into the post-season, but the Eagles ran into three buzz-saws, falling at the hands of teams that are currently 17-3 overall.

After three impressive wins, by a 133-27 margin, Independence hosted defending 5-A champ Beech in a much-anticipated event. The 28-21 loss was compounded the next week by a 30-14 perceived upset at the hands of Ravenwood before running into sixth ranked Blackman two weeks ago, suffering a 47-6 defeat. But Indy coach Scott Blade is upbeat and positive about the schedule.

“We have played a difficult schedule thus far and expect the competition to remain stiff.  We hope that in playing the schedule, it has better prepared us for the rest of the district. I know our team has done a good job responding to the recent losses and look forward to putting them behind us.”

One of the bright spots has been the development of quarterback Caleb Hollis, who has thrown for 1,148 yards and 13 touchdowns and rushed for another 177. Hollis is not afraid to check-down through his receivers, as nine different players have caught his passes, led by Wharton’s 27 catches for 543-yards and 7 touchdowns.

“Caleb has done a great job for us this year. Our passing game is used to set up our run game,” said Blade. “Each year that philosophy changes with personnel and the teams perceived strengths. This year, our strengths and experience are with our skilled positions.”

That strength is obvious in Gaulden, Stribling and Wharton, but it’s the work the three do outside of game time that impresses Blade.

“The thing that most people don’t see is they work hard with the younger guys to insure they can step in next year.”

Centennial (4-3, 2-1 District 1-AAA) knows the importance of this game, according to head coach Brian Rector, especially after last week’s epic 38-35 loss to Ravenwood.

“This is a good Independence team,” he said earlier this week.  “This will not be an easy victory if we get it. This is a team that gets after you on both sides of the ball and they play with a lot of effort and a lot of heart.”

The Cougars have been depending on the run, specifically junior Deon Sanders, who leads the district in rushing with 1,226 yards and 13 touchdowns on 190 carries.

“We try to pound it every week,” said Rector, “and we’ve got to establish the run game to help our passing game that is evolving every week. But at the end of the day we have to run the ball to be successful.”

Like Independence, Centennial was in the pre-season discussions as a sure-fire play-off team. But pre-season injuries and a couple of bad bounces got the Cougars off to a 0-2 start before they reeled off four straight wins prior to last week’s loss.

“We are going to put behind us what is behind us.  We don’t want to lick our wounds too much,” said Rector.  “This game will give us a chance to see how good of a team we really are.”

Posted on: 10/10/2013


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