HENDERSONVILLE – Independence coach Scott Blade plainly called halftime a time to “re-focus” Friday.
How the Eagles did that will remain a mystery, but Independence was a different team in the second half at Hendersonville on a hot and humid night. The Eagles outscored the hosts 17-0 and rallied for a 31-24 victory – Indy's fifth in a row.
“Coach talked to us,” Eagles junior Jaxson Campbell said. “He asked, ‘who do we want to be?’ ‘What kind of team to we want to be?’ ... ‘Do we want to be the same 6-6 team the last two years or do we want to be different?’
“We decided to step it up. It was definitely a gut check.”
Independence improved to 5-1 overall heading into a Region 6-6A showdown with Brentwood (5-1) in Week 7.
“It was a very physical night, and our kids answered the call,” Blade said. “We refocused our night and our attitude.
“For us to come on the road on a very humid and hot night, to come get a win, our fifth in a row, it really says a lot about the character of our team and how far we have come. We look forward to next week because it’s going to be a big one.”
The Eagles came off the busses flat Friday night and their opening drive stalled near midfield. Hendersonville took over and responded in a hurry with two big-time scoring plays on a 95-yard run by Isaiah Chandler and a 61-yarder from Keion Stafford – both coming two minutes apart near the midway point of the first quarter. Chandler’s breakaway came on the second play from scrimmage for the Commandos on a sweep for a 14-0 lead with 5:03 remaining in the opening frame. Stafford slipped arm tackles up the middle and bolted loose to pay dirt.
“The way they started, that just put us in a hole,” Eagles quarterback Ethan Cash said. “We didn’t stop fighting, though.”
Ethan Pickering capped a five-play drive covering 63 yards with a 6-yard touchdown run to get the visiting team on the scoreboard with 2:12 left in the first. Campbell set up the drive with a big return.
Hendersonville again found traction on its first drive of the second quarter and staked a 21-7 lead when QB Drew Hohenbrink hit Will Batson from seven yards out just over four minutes into the frame. The Eagles got some help from two pass interference calls and were able to recover their own fumble before Jack Phillips scored the first of his two rushing TDs on the night to answer.
With 4:54 to play in the half, Indy’s defense stiffened and forced a three-and-out while gaining some momentum. Hendersonville’s ensuing punt bounced all the way down to the Eagles 5-yard line, where Indy struggled to find room. A tipped pass from Cash intended for Brian Pierce ended up in the hands of the Commandos Lathan Barker with just over two minutes remaining. Hendersonville settled for a 25-yard field goal as time expired for a 24-14 lead at the break.
That’s when the Eagles regrouped.
“The defense knew that they were embarrassed in the first half,” Blade said. “That was a bit of our gut check at halftime.
“I’m really proud of the kids responding to the all-call at halftime.”
Cash closed with 162 yards on 15-of-23 passing. He added 11 carries for 67 yards with a couple big first down runs. Pierce had five catches for 67 yards to lead the receiving corps, which was without Chayce Bishop who was on the sideline in walking boot.
Cash connected with Campbell for a 21-yard strike less than five minutes into the half. The Indy defense stood strong again, stopping the Commandos on fourth down on the next possession to take over at their own 32 with 4:17 to play in the third. Pierce set up the second Philips touchdown when he caught a ball in the middle of the field and spun free from a defender for a 37-yard catch-and-run. Phillips scored on a 13-yarder, diving into the end zone two plays later. After Sam Henke’s PAT, Indy had a 28-24 advantage.
Indy senior James Anderson provided an exclamation point to the defense’s performance when he ripped through the line and plowed over Hohenbrink on fourth down with 4:49 to play. Henke went on to convert a 24-yard field goal with 57 seconds to play as the Eagles held on the rest of the way.
“This helps our confidence, but this week, we have to focus and come out strong against Brentwood,” said Campbell, who had three grabs for 39 yards. “I believe we can come out and give them a shot. I’m excited for that.”
Both teams sit atop the region standings with 2-0 marks in league play.
Independence 31, Hendersonville 24
IHS – 7 7 14 3 – 31
HHS – 14 10 0 0 – 24
1Q 7:07 H – Isaiah Chandler 95 run (Andrew Mason kick);
1Q 5:03 H – Keion Stafford 61 run (Mason kick);
1Q 2:12 I – Ethan Pickering 6 run (Sam Henke kick);
2Q 7:53 H – Will Batson 7 pass from Drew Hohenbrink (Mason kick);
2Q 4:54 I – Jack Phillips 4 run (Henke kick);
2Q 0:00 H – Mason 25 FG;
3Q 7:15 I – Jaxson Campbell 21 pass from Ethan Cash (Henke kick);
3Q 2:02 I – Phillips 13 run (Henke kick);
4Q 0:57 I – Henke 24 FG.