By ANDREW SKWARA / For Franklin Home PageIndependence was playing without its starting quarterback, defensive coordinator and multiple starters at times in a 20-7 loss to Blackman.
Photos by CHAD CARSON and JENNIE CURRAN
Independence missing several key cogs for season-opener against Blackman
Playing shorthanded is tough enough. Doing so in your season-opener and against a formidable opponent makes for an especially harsh task.
Playing without its starting quarterback, defensive coordinator and multiple starters at times, Independence looked sloppy in Week Zero. The Eagles coughed up four second-half turnovers on their way to a 20-7 loss at home to Rutherford County power Blackman Friday night on a soggy field.
“I think we had great effort, but we made more mistakes and that was the difference in this ball game,” Independence coach Kevin Dyson said. “Hopefully we learned from it. The good thing is all the mistakes are correctable.”
With senior quarterback Chase Swayze sidelined by a shin injury, Dyson had to put freshman Andrew Bunch under center for most snaps. The result was a sluggish Eagle offense that gained just 116 total yards.
Still, Independence threatened to tie the game early in the fourth quarter thanks to a fourth-down stop by its defense in its own territory with Blackman leading 14-7. But a fumble on the ensuing play gave Blackman the ball right back. The Blaze went on to score eight plays later when quarterback Matt Williams crossed the goal line among a pile of defenders.
In the first half, Williams connected with receivers on three passes of 40 yards or more, including a perfect 61-yard bomb to Quintel Cousin that put the Blaze up 7-0 in the first quarter. Chris Lilly turned a short throw into a 40-yard gain, which set up a 1-yard touchdown plunge from Mitchell that put the Blaze up 14-0 going into the half.
That margin could have been larger had the Eagle defense, which was without its coordinator (dealing with a family death) and a starting linebacker in the first half (disciplinary reasons), not managed to force and recover a fumble with Blackman at the IHS 1-yard line on the game’s opening drive.
In the third quarter, another fumble recovery by the Independence defense led to the Eagles’ only score. On the ensuing drive, Bunch fired up a lofty fourth-down pass that got behind the Blackman secondary and into the hands of Kenton Brown in the end zone.
But, the next four Independence possessions each resulted in turnovers, including a pair of passed that were initially tipped by their own receivers that became interceptions.
“We made some adjustments after halftime and I applaud the defense’s effort, especially because we put them behind the eight ball so much,” Dyson said. “But, our mistakes caught up to us. We weren’t playing assignment football. Good teams capitalize on those kind of mistakes and that is what (Blackman) did.”
The Independence defense combined for three sacks and safety Oscar Prado made a number of key tackles.
Independence’s special teams were a bright spot. The Eagles managed to block a field goal (43-yard attempt) and an extra point while punter Drake Dormann had an average of 42 yards on five punts.
Dyson said he wasn’t sure if Swayze would be able to play in the Eagles’ second game against visiting Page next Friday.
“Last year we lost to this team in the first game (Blackman won 14-9) and we went on to go 8-2 and win the district,” Dyson said. “We just need to fix our mistakes and concentrate on what’s ahead now.”