By JOSH VARDAMAN
The Independence Eagles can make it two undefeated seasons in a row with one more victory.
Standing in their way is a Blue Cross Bowl Class 5A state title matchup with Farragut at Tennessee Tech Friday.
The defending Class 5A state champion Eagles (14-0) have at least one thing to look forward to going into Friday’s duel with the Admirals (13-1): They don’t have to play Brentwood.
During Independence’s 29-game winning streak, no team has played the Eagles as tough as Brentwood. Both in the first game of this season and last week in the semifinals, the Bruins held a lead in the fourth quarter before squandering it away late. They were the only two games in the 29 in which Indy trailed in the fourth quarter.
The Eagles’ ability to come from behind to win games has encouraged Indy head coach Scott Blade entering Friday’s state championship.
“We’ve learned about being resilient,” he said. “We’ve learned about digging deep and finding a way to win. There have been different ways to win than we’ve been able to do the last couple of years. Especially last week – being able to come from behind is extremely difficult to do against a team as good as Brentwood.”
In the semifinals, Independence had trouble containing Brentwood quarterback Kaden Dreier in the running game. The signal caller rushed for 124 yards and a touchdown and threw for two more scores.
The Eagles will have to deal with another talented quarterback on Friday, though Farragut senior Adam Fulton will try to do his damage with his arm. He has thrown for 2,933 yards, 38 touchdowns and five interceptions this season. Fourteen of his TD throws have been to Braden Collins, who has 1,065 receiving yards.
The Admirals also have a talented rusher in senior Cooper Hardin, who’s picked up 1,290 yards and 16 TDs on the ground this season. Amon Johnson has added 14 rushing scores, and as a team Farragut has got in the endzone 41 times on the ground.
“I think, first and foremost, they’re very well-coached,” Blade said. “They really have some talented kids and a neat quarterback who can throw well on the run and sit back and tear you apart in the pocket. They remind us a lot of what we do.”
Independence will counter Farragut’s potent offense with a defense that may be under-praised at times, but it may actually be the Eagles’ strong suit.
Behind tackles and sacks leader David Demke (126 tackles, 17 sacks), Blade said his team will have to get to Fulton to try and disrupt the Admiral passing game.
“It will be really important that we’ll be able to get pressure and potentially get them behind the sticks,” he said. “Our pass rush has to be on-point this week for us to have a chance.”
The Eagles will also try to keep the ball away from Farragut’s offense by controlling the possession with its passing attack.
Quarterback Brandon Hines has stepped into the signal caller spot this season and been impressive. He’s thrown for 3,250 yards, 38 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
Hines’ main weapon this season has been Mississippi State commit Landon Guidry, who has 903 receiving yards, 398 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns. But in the playoffs, sophomore Kendrell Scurry (866 receiving yards), a Tennessee commit, has upped his game.
In Independence’s four playoff games, Scurry has caught 24 passes for 455 yards and eight of his 15 TDs on the season.
The added game minutes Scurry and other younger players are getting in the playoffs is invaluable, according to their head coach.
“Remember, a couple of these kids are sophomores,” Blade said. “It’s a learning process for them, and they’re getting better each week. Every week we get to play, they get another week of practice and another week to get better. When you’re that young and you’re learning, that’s important.”
The Class 5A state title game is scheduled to kick off at 7 p.m. Friday at Tennessee Tech University in Cookeville.