Andrew Bunch threw for 388 yards and five touchdowns, all to Nate Johnson, rushed for another score and unbeaten Independence (14-0) overwhelmed Centennial (12-2) 56-15 Friday night in Thompson's Station, sending the Eagles to the TSSAA Class 5A Blue Cross Bowl next Friday.
Johnson accounted for 213 yards on nine catches, including touchdown receptions of 27, three, 42, 46 and one yards. He added another six points to his total on his single rush, covering nine yards.
The Bunch to Johnson connection started early. On the Eagles’ first possession, after Centennial took an early 3-0 lead, the pair connected for 36 yards on the first play from scrimmage and then hooked up for a 27-yard touchdown on the very next play.
“It all starts with the line," Johnson said. "They did a great job of giving the QB time to get the ball off and when they do that, plays like these happen.”
The contest looked like it could be an offensive slugfest at the start. Winning the toss, Centennial deferred to the second half and immediately stole possession with an on-side kick. Four minutes later Peyton Pisacane put the Cougars on the board first with a 25-yard field goal.
Indy answered on Johnson’s first score, but could not stop Centennial on the next possession. The Cougars drove 80 yards in five plays in just one minute, 40 seconds, culminating in Tristan Pisacane’s 36-yard touchdown throw to Ra’sean McLemore to take a 9-6 lead. In track meet fashion, Indy returned the favor 1:41 later when Johnson took a jet sweep around the corner and tacked on a 2-point conversion to put the Eagles ahead 14-9.
That’s when the wheels began to come off for Centennial as the Cougars gave up three more scores in barely 15 minutes, a pair of Bunch-to-Johnson TD passes and a second effort 10-yard bull run by Bunch that left the Eagles up 35-9 at the half and the game pretty well decided.
“They are just a lot better than us. It’s a bad matchup,” said Centennial coach Brian Rector. “We’re a lot better at stopping a heavy run game team.
“It was a replay of Week 2. We couldn’t stop them and we couldn’t make enough first downs or touchdowns to keep it close.”
The Cougars did all they could. Senior Mondu Sawyers continued to be the workhorse out of the backfield, rushing 23 times for 97 yards. Senior quarterback Tristan Pisacane finished the night with 194 yards in the air on 11-25-0 throwing with a pair of touchdowns.
But it just wasn't enough.
The final straw came at halftime when the Cougars discovered senior Peyton Pisacane, the team’s starting safety, kicker, punter and kick returner, had played the last four minutes of the first half with a broken left tibia. He returned to the sidelines on crutches.
Centennial tried to close the gap on their second possession of the half, with Tyrel Dodson taking a Tristan Pisacane screen pass 61 yards to cut the lead to 35-15.
But Indy immediately jumped on the Cougar secondary, scoring twice in 21 seconds in the third quarter, once following a Cougar fumble. The scores were the fourth and fifth touchdown connections between Bunch and Johnson, leaving the home team on top 49-15.
“That pair is the best I’ve coached and they do some special things,” said Eagle coach Scott Blade. “That connection is special. It’s the first time I’ve seen two kids so in tune, so clean on their routes in my 19 years of coaching.”
Indy got a final score when Landon Guidry roared in from 23 yards out early in the fourth quarter.
“The fun thing about coaching this team is that it is a team,” said Blade, “everybody contributes.
“These kids are still getting better. Sometimes kids will peak out and stop getting better, but this group has continued to get better. I’m excited I’ve got one more week to coach them and see how much better we can be next week.”
Blade and his staff will have a week to prepare the Eagles for a state championship match with Sevier County (12-2), the Region 1-5A champion, set for next Friday night at Tennessee Tech in Cookeville. Sevier County defeated Rhea County 42-28 to advance.