By SAM McGAW
HUNTINGTON LEARNING CENTER GAME OF THE WEEK
Brentwood (5-1, 2-1) at Independence (3-2, 2-0), 7 p.m. Friday*
If Brentwood wants a shot at winning Region 6-6A, it must take down the Independence Eagles for the first time since 2012.
The Bruins have lost five straight matchups against the reigning Class 5A state runners-up, including a 27-24 defeat in the Class 5A state semifinals last season.
As for Independence, it’s seeking its fourth straight win after starting the season 0-2. A win against Brentwood Friday would push it to 3-0 in league play with only two region games remaining.
“We just know it’s going to be a great matchup in a great environment,” Independence head coach Scott Blade said. “We’re expecting everything they’ve got with an experienced, well-coached offense and defense.”
The Eagles scored two touchdowns in the final five minutes to beat Brentwood for a state championship berth last fall. In that matchup, the Bruins were without starting quarterback Carson Shacklett due to a broken collarbone.
This year, Shacklett has his offense rolling to an average of 34.5 points per game.
He’s recorded 1,226 passing yards, 113 rushing yards, 15 touchdowns (2 run) and four interceptions. He completed 13 of 13 passes for 207 yards and three touchdowns in last week’s 49-7 win against Nolensville.
“He has experience and maturity running the system,” Blade said. “He plays within himself and within his system. He’s a great leader for those guys. When you put all of those things together — a smart, coachable kid with experience and maturity — you have the makings of a pretty good quarterback.”
Shacklett has done a great job of spreading the ball around this season.
His top targets include receivers Chayce Bishop (10 rec., 249 yds, 5 TDs), Parker bullion (15 rec., 223 yds, 3 TDs) and Grant Yocam (22 rec., 297 yds, 2 TDs), as well as H-back Kaden Dreier (13 rec., 235 yds).
Running backs Carter McKechnie (334 rush yds, 140 rec. yds, 6 TDs) and Jordan Nicholas (248 rush yds, 5 TDs) lead the backfield.
“They have a lot of good guys at receiver and at tight end, and they have a couple of really special guys on the offensive line,” Blade said. “They’re well-balanced. They know what they want to do and they do it well.”
Independence is allowing 27.4 points per game this season. Its defense is led by linebackers Tyus Jackson (60 tkls, 1 INT) and Blake Bixby (58 tkls).
“They have a lot of speed on defense,” Brentwood head coach Ron Crawford said. “We’ve got to manipulate them and get them lined up where we want them to be able to run the football and to use the throwing game like we want.”
Independence’s offense is loaded with weapons.
Running back Troy Henderson (542 rush yds, 88 rec. yds, 9 TDs) has been the unit’s primary spark during its winning streak. Over the last three games, he’s recorded 447 rushing yards, 52 receiving yards and six touchdowns.
TJ Sheffield (381 rec. yds, 3 TDs), Isaiah Collier (14 rec., 333 yds, 3 TDs) and Kendrell Scurry (19 rec., 235 yds, 2 TDs) lead the receiving corps.
Quarterback Nathan Cisco is the group’s ringleader. He’s passed for 1,183 yards, 10 touchdowns and five interceptions.
“Their speed and length at receiver is their No. 1 strength,” Crawford stated. “At times, you have to cover them a long time, because (Cisco) will escape and keep his eyes downfield. When he escapes, he’ll escape to throw it, not to keep it.”
With Independence featuring so many playmakers, the Bruins know one mistake can prove to be very costly.
“For two years, we’ve tried to keep them in front of us and make them drive the ball and not give up any easy scores,” Crawford said. “It’s been a formula for staying close, so I think this time we’ve got to do the same thing, but also get some more stops. Our offense also needs to help us by possessing the ball and scoring when they get a chance.”
Sam McGaw is the sports editor for Brentwood Home Page, Franklin Home Page, Nolensville Home Page and Spring Hill Home Page. Follow him on Twitter @SamMcGaw_.