By Maurice Patton
THOMPSONS STATION – Scott Blade wasn’t particularly pleased with Independence’s finish Friday night, but the Eagles’ strong start was sufficient to secure a fourth consecutive victory with a 35-23 decision against visiting Hendersonville.
“We’ve been playing well defensively all year; I’d just like to see them finish,” Blade said after the Commandos scored twice in the fourth quarter to close a 21-3 halftime margin. “I don’t know if we got worn out. I’m proud of the kids for hanging in there, but we didn’t finish well.”
Before six minutes had elapsed from the game clock, though, the hosts had scored twice – stopping a key Hendersonville fourth-down attempt to set up a short field for the second score – and set the mood for the night.
“I was thrilled,” said Independence senior quarterback Jaxson Campbell, who’d gotten his team on the scoreboard with a 17-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Kondra at the 9:47 mark of the opening period and doubled that lead after the defense allowed one yard on the visitors’ fourth-down-and-2 attempt.
“I get so pumped for the defense. It really is a family, both sides of the ball.”
That second score didn’t come easily, despite the favorable field position. Campbell threw three successive incomplete passes before converting on fourth-and-10 with a 15-yarder to Ty Lockwood. Three plays later, Campbell scored from a yard out.
“We decided to go on fourth down. We needed to pick that up,” Hendersonville coach James Beasley said after his team dropped to 2-3 with the non-region loss. “We played pretty well on defense, but we let them pick up the fourth-and-long. Those two plays – us not getting fourth-and-short, and them getting fourth-and-long – were backbreakers for us in the first half.”
An Andrew Martin 27-yard field goal was the only red zone drive in five Commando first-half possessions, as Independence (4-1) continued its strong defensive play.
To open the third quarter, though, Hendersonville went 80 yards on eight plays – more than half of that courtesy of senior fullback Brent Rowe, who rushed for 53 yards on four carries and set up Luke Manning’s 22-yard pass to Ellis Ellis in the back of the end zone.
“We were really confident we could have a good run game; we did that most of the game,” Rowe said after gaining 143 yards on 16 carries and adding a 17-yard catch-and-run for a fourth-quarter score. “We just didn’t finish drives. We’ve got to get better at that.”
Campbell responded by leading the Eagles to touchdowns on each of his unit’s next two possessions, the last – capped by a Tre Hartwell 3-yard run — making it a 35-10 game with seven minutes to play.
“He’s the one pulling the trigger, the one extending drives, reading the defense,” Blade said of Campbell, who finished with 160 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns on 12 carries while completing 12 of 23 passes for 180 yards and two scores. “He’s a special player. We ask a lot of him, and he’s delivered.”
Rowe’s touchdown catch closed the margin with less than three minutes remaining, and a successful Hendersonville onsides kick attempt led to a Manning 7-yard run in the final minute, but that was as close as the Commandos could get.
“They were able to take advantage of something,” Blade said regarding Rowe’s success. “They got him running. We didn’t tackle well the whole night.
“We’ve got to tighten some things up defensively to prepare for a great Brentwood team.”
Independence 35, Hendersonville 23
at Eagles Stadium
H 0 3 7 13 – 23
I 14 7 7 7 – 35
I – Tyler Kondra 17 pass from Jaxson Campbell (9:47), Sam Henke kick
I – Campbell 1 run (6:06), Henke kick
H – Andrew Martin 27 field goal (2:50)
I – Calvin Wilson 27 pass from Campbell (0:23), Henke kick
H – Ellis Ellis 22 pass from Luke Manning (8:01), Martin kick
I – Campbell 4 run (2:39), Henke kick
I – Tre Hartwell 3 run (7:22), Henke kick
H – Brent Rowe 17 pass from Manning (2:37), Martin kick
H – Manning 7 run (0:36), kick blocked
First downs 18 17
Rushes-yards 35-197 25-230
Passing yards 122 180
Comps-Atts-Ints 15-20-1 12-23-0
Penalties-yards 5-29 6-65
Fumbles-lost 0-0 3-2
Hendersonville – Luke Manning 3-3, Brent Rowe 16-143, Keion Stafford 3-12, Ellis Ellis 7-31, Torin Baker 1-(-2), David Johnson 1-3, Noah Carmean 3-19
Independence – Raul Cruz 1-4, Brice West 2-6, Tre Hartwell 9-45, Jaxson Campbell 12-160, Ethan Pickering 1-15
Hendersonville – Luke Manning 15-20-1, 122
Independence – Jaxson Campbell 12-23-0, 180
Hendersonville – Jack Busey 3-16, Ellis Ellis 4-41, Nevin DeGraaf 2-20, Brent Rowe 2-29, Keion Stafford 2-4, Landon Wortham 1-9, Jameson Wharton 1-3
Independence – Ty Lockwood 6-95, Brigham Morrical 2-16, Calvin Wilson 2-43, Tyler Kondra 2-26