A win to start the season was going to mean a great deal of things for the Independence football team; revenge in a bitter rivalry against Page, for one, but more than anything it would represent a new first for the program — an undefeated record. Independence got off to the first 1-0 start in the school’s football history Friday night by dismantling the Patriots at home in Rudderville and going back to Thompson’s Station with a 39-3 victory in its pocket.
“We came out so hyped up last year, hoping to win, and we came so close,” junior offensive and defensive lineman Nate Stout said. “We finally came out and put it all together.”
Page, a Class 3A school, beat the Eagles 16-7 at Independence in the first meeting between the two, so the rivalry is alive with the series tied 1-1. Eagles’ Coach Scott Smith knows, though, bigger games remain in Region 6-5A for his team. “We still have to take this game for what it’s worth,” he said. “We’ve got to improve and go light years farther than we are now.”
Big plays for the Eagles came off mistakes by Page (0-1), especially where turnovers were concerned. Independence’s Terone Shephard returned a Blake Neel interception 94 yards for a touchdown, and Isaac Baugh scooped up a fumble by Page’s Taylor Lankford and ran 17 yards for a touchdown.
Defensively Independence was able to keep Page out of the end zone, with the Patriots’ deepest penetration being the Eagles’ 12-yard line.
“Our defense stepped up huge,” Stout said.
On offense, starting quarterback Zach Cordell was in a groove all night, finding Baugh and counterpart Chris Darnell multiple times with Darnell catching two touchdown tosses. Cordell finished with 157 yards and the two TDs on 12-of-18 passing. Darnell had 5 receptions for 86 yards, while Baugh caught 5 passes for 58 yards.
“He was right on the money,” Smith said. “Zach really adds a lot of maturity to our team.”
Senior tailback Scott Pettigrew had limited touches in the game but made the most of them, rolling up 111 yards on just four carries. It was his fourth and final run that put the exclamation point on a big Eagle victory, though. He outran the Page defense for a 90-yard touchdown scamper with 5:54 left in the game.
“He wanted the football,” Smith said. “So we just ran a safe play up the middle, and he turned a good play into a great play. “He promised me he would score a touchdown if he touched the ball (in the game), and he did.”
The Patriots kept fighting until the final horn, especially Lankford who had 128 yards on 22 carries. He got the majority of the carries but split time with Les Gilbert and Chris Rose late in the game. Since Page has so many young players stepping in this year, a game like this has to be forgotten in a hurry.
“We just have to put this game behind us,” Lankford said. “This game really doesn’t mean anything.”
A scoreless first quarter changed in a hurry for the Eagles, after they scored three times in a span of just over four minutes. The third score blew the game open when Baugh’s fumble return came just seconds after Independence had scored on a Cordell-to-Darnell 24-yard pass to make it 13-0. Baugh’s TD and Jeff Veres’ point after made it 20-0 before the Pats knew what hit them.
“They basically were beating us in two minutes,” Lankford said. “That stretch really knocked the wind out of us.” The Eagles’ other TD came on a 2-yard run from Ryan Consiglio. Jordan Rion booted a 41-yard field goal for the Patriots’ only points of the first half.
Independence held Page off the scoreboard in the second half and put up 19 points of its own, on a Nick Smith-to-Darnell 19-yard TD pass, Shephard’s interception return and Pettigrew’s 90-yard TD run.
Both teams still are in non-region play next week, with Page traveling to White House and Independence traveling to face Hillwood.