By CHIP CIRILLO | Photos by KINDELL MOORE
COOKEVILLE – Independence’s final game in Class 5A is one it would like to forget.
A 28-point lead disappeared and a 29-game win streak ended as the Eagles lost to Farragut 45-35 in the 5A final at Tennessee Tech on Friday night.
The Eagles (14-1), who led 35-7 late in the second quarter, will move to 6A next season.
Farragut (14-1) won its first state title by scoring the last 38 points, completely reversing the momentum.
“It was 35-7 and we did not put them away,” Eagles coach Scott Blade said. “We had a chance and unfortunately the wheels came off – a lot like Cane Ridge a couple weeks ago.”
A 30-point lead evaporated against Cane Ridge in the quarterfinals, but Independence hung on for a 49-46 win.
The Eagles couldn’t hold off the Admirals, as quarterback Brandon Hines tied a state championship record with six interceptions.
Friendship Christian’s Jon Miller also threw six interceptions against Jackson Christian in 2006.
“Six interceptions just isn’t going to cut it, so I wish we could just have it back, for sure,” Hines said. “They were delay blitzing and shifting a little bit up front, but it’s nothing that we haven’t seen. I think it started with that interception right before halftime. They just got (the momentum) and didn’t lose it.”
Independence’s win streak was believed to be the longest since Fulton won 37 straight from 2012-15. Maryville owns the state record with 74 in a row from 2004-08.
The defending champs finished runner-up for the second time.
“Brandon has had a terrific season for us,” Blade said of the senior who threw for 3,577 yards and 40 touchdowns in 2016. “We’re not blaming everything on one person. It’s not that. Our defense didn’t stop anybody, either.”
Comebacks aren’t new to the Admirals, who overcame a 28-point deficit in a 56-49 double overtime win over Ooltewah in the quarterfinals.
“I knew the kids were capable,” Farragut coach Eddie Courtney said. “That’s what I told them at halftime. We’ve got a decision to make. Just play the second half and do the best we can. They had 24 minutes so when we walk off this field we know we gave it everything we could and they did that.”
Farragut cornerback Jake Devault was named defensive MVP after intercepting two passes.
“First and foremost, I’d like to give credit to our defensive line and linebackers because they were able to get a lot more pressure on (Hines) in the second half and give us an opportunity to get those picks,” Devault said. “I think at the end (Hines) started losing confidence. Our defense stepped it up in the second half.”
Admirals running back Cooper Hardin earned offensive MVP honors after rushing for 164 yards and three TDs on 35 carries.
“We just had to keep fighting and grinding,” Hardin said.
Independence scored touchdowns on five of its first six possessions to build a commanding lead.
Then the Eagles went 0 for 8 on their remaining possessions and got shut out 31-0 in the second half.
“We made too many mistakes and turned the ball over,” said Eagles receiver TJ Sheffield, a Tennessee commit who had 195 all-purpose yards and two TDs. “Coaches reminded us every day during the week that (Farragut) came back on another team.”
Independence sophomore receiver Kendrell Scurry, another Tennessee commit, caught nine passes for 112 yards and one TD.
“We took our foot off the gas pedal and we were going to win,” Scurry said. “Definitely hard. Never lost a game at Independence until today.”
Farragut receiver Braden Collins caught nine passes for 177 yards and two TDs. … Hines completed 23 of 40 for 327 yards and two TDs. … The teams combined for 942 total yards: 492 for Independence and 450 for Farragut. … The Admirals scored 23 points off turnovers. … Independence linebacker Colby Logan blocked a punt, intercepted a pass, forced a fumble and made six tackles. … Independence receiver Landon Guidry, a Mississippi State commit, had 99 all-purpose yards in his final game with the Eagles.