By ZACH HARMUTH
Independence High School is one of the youngest secondary schools in the Williamson County Schools system, and of course it has one of the youngest football programs.
The Thompson’s Station school, built to serve the budding communities around Spring Hill, opened in 2004-2005 with only freshmen and sophomores. The football team did not have a senior on it until the 2005-2006 season.
Understandably, the Eagles football team– and athletics teams in general– struggled those first few years. In 2005, the first full season, @ClubTouchdown, as the team goes by on Twitter, managed just 1 win and 9 losses under head coach Scott Smith, who was coming off of a 49-13 record and a state title in five seasons as the big Kahuna at Ezell-Harding.
The Eagles did end that first season on a high note, getting their only win against Columbia Central in the last game of the season, 35-22.
The next season, the first year that Independence would have seniors,
The 2007-2008 season had seniors that were the first class to complete all four years as Eagles.
It was a season to remember. Under first-year head coach Jason Eubanks, Independence pulled off the ultimate-underdog story.
After four weeks of football, the Eagles were 1-3 and had been outscored 110 to 42. It looked like they were headed for another developing-program kind of year. No one expected what came next. Except for @ClubTouchdown.
Sophomore quarterback Alex Heckman started to emerge around week five, and he eventually took over the starting job from junior Nick Smith.
At the same time, senior running back Scott Pettigrew grew shoulders wide enough to carry his team to six straight wins to end the regular season, vaulting the Eagles from 1-3 to 7-3 and headed to their first playoff berth while taking their first district title. Pettigrew average 94 yards rushing per game and scored 14 touchdowns as they ran the table, outscoring opponents by an average of 17 points per game and never allowing more than 14.
Things would only get better in the playoffs.
After ending the regular season against Columbia Cenral scoring a season-high 42 points, in the first round of the post-season against Gallatin they matched it in a 42-7 stomping.
In round two, the Eagles ran over Antioch, 44-12.
On a real Cinderella-run, in their first-ever post-season, midnight was far off still. The state quarterfinals brought Region 5A-6 rival Franklin to the Eagle’s Nest. It was the day after Thanksgiving and two months and a day since they last lost– 41-16 at Franklin on September 21. In the first match up, the fourth quarter began with the Eagles only trailing by 5, down 21-16. But Franklin blew up, scoring 20 unanswered points to end the game.
In this day-after-Thanksgiving game, like the leftovers, vengeance came best served cold.
The Eagles were lucky turkeys, and they won 17-14 to advance to the 5A State Championship game. From 1-3 at the end of September, with their first post-season appearance still a dim hope, to playing for State. Not a bad three months for the Independence Eagles.
The ride had to end at some point, and it did in the Blue Cross Bowl against Smyrna. The Bulldogs handily took the title in a 46-20 contest.
Indy Nation would have to wait eight more years for their next shot at the state title. And nothing could have been sweeter than the 2015 Eagles season, as they swept away all challengers and completed a perfect season, one more than 10 years in the making.