The Independence Patriots and the Rocky River Ravens faced off on Friday for an important 4A Southwestern Conference game. The Patriots came into the game with an overall record of 7-1 and 4-0 in conference. The home-standing Ravens were 6-2 and 3-1. Both teams appear headed for the playoffs, and this game would play a part in future playoff match ups.
This game was a back and forth affair between two evenly matched teams.
Independence kicked off and the game was on. After a first down, Ravens senior quarterback Andre Rice attempted his first pass. The pass was promptly picked off by the Patriots’ sophomore defensive back Cordell McMurray who returned it to the Rocky River 33 yard line.
The Patriots wasted no time taking advantage of the sudden change of possession. On the first play senior quarterback Jason Connella connected with wide receiver Jamar Jenkins, only a sophomore, on a deep pass down the right sideline for a gain of 29 yards.
From four yards out, the Patriots were able to pound the ball into the end zone. Connella scored the touchdown on a quarterback sneak. The extra point was blocked but the Patriots led early 6-0. The teams exchanged punts until the Ravens offense exploded. After a first down, senior running back James House burst through a big hole on the left side and juked his way through the Patriots’ secondary for a 41 yard touchdown run. The extra point was missed and the game was tied 6-6.
The excitement in the first quarter was far from over. After the Ravens’ kickoff, Connella hit Patriots’ senior wide receiver Dequan Barnes on a 65-yard bomb. Barnes had gotten wide open behind the Ravens’ secondary and Connella hit him in stride for the score.
This time the extra point was good and Independence led again 13-6. An early pattern had emerged for the Patriots’ offense. To this point, all of their pass attempts were deep ones. Connella completed only two of his first five passes, but both led directly to touchdowns.
The defenses began to find their rhythm late in the first quarter and into the second. The only scoring in the second quarter was set up by Rice’s 78 yard quarterback keeper straight up the middle of the Patriots’ defense to the 16 yard line. Senior running back Sidney Lawson ran the final 16 yards over the left side on the next play from scrimmage and after the successful extra point the Ravens had tied the score at 13 with nine minutes left in the first half.
There was plenty of action left in the half, but none of it resulted in scoring. An Independence drive was halted on fourth down, the Ravens attempted a flea flicker pass that was inter- cepted at the goal line, the Patriots completed a fumblerooski pass for 16 yards and a first down; and the Ravens later intercepted a pass to stop a Patriots drive. A hard fought half with big hits and big plays. The half ended with a very appropri- ate tie score, 13-13.
As it turned out, the excitement had only begun.
Good teams are able to make adjustments at halftime that can turn around a close game. When two such teams play each other, you can end up with a real barn burner of a game.
It was obvious the Patriots had changed course for the second half. Their first half offense consisted mainly of power runs by indestructible junior running back Isiah Robinson, and deep passes. Indepen- dence came out in the second half using Connella in the ground game more. On the Patriots’ second drive of the half, after a few effective quarterback runs for first downs, Independence went back to Robinson. He delivered, with a punishing run up the middle for a 42-yard touchdown run. The extra point put Independence back in front 20-13.
Rocky River’s halftime adjustments were just as effective. Offensive Coordinator Mark Harmon put the ball in Rice’s hands more. The Ravens scored on their next possession with Rice running over the right side and scoring from 10 yards out. The extra point tied the score again, at 20 all.
The Patriots started their next drive in Ravens’ territory after a very tough kickoff return put the ball on the 44 yard line. Connella looked to take advantage as he had in the first quarter, but this time Rocky River’s secondary was ready. Sidney Lawson, starring on both offense and defense, intercepted the pass and returned it into Patriots’ territory at the 42 yard line. The Ravens borrowed a page from the Patriots as Rice hit wide receiver Aaron Cole on a 42-yard touchdown bomb. Suddenly the Ravens had taken their first lead of the game at 27-20. The home crowd was rocking “The Rock.”
The third quarter ended with Independence driving down the field, but still trailing 27-20.
The Patriots completed their scoring drive with 10: 30 left in the game. Robinson scored again, this time on a 12-yard run, breaking multiple tackles along the way. The score was tied 27-27. Neither team was able to break away from the other.
The defenses again stepped up, or maybe the offenses started to play a little closer to the vest, unwilling to make a critical mistake and give the game away.
With about three minutes left in the game and the score still tied, an excellent football game became an instant classic.
Rocky River had the ball and was driving, seemingly trying to get close enough to at least attempt a game winning field goal. The Ra- vens had first and 10 at the Patriots’ 25 yard line. Two negative plays later it was third and 15 at the 30-yard line. The clock showed 1:29 remaining. A penalty and an incomplete pass later and the Ravens’ promising drive ended in a punt. The punt was a good one, and pinned the Patriots back on their own seven yard line with just over a minute to play.
Lesser teams in this position might run out the clock and go to overtime. Not the Independence Patriots. First play: 18-yard pass completion. Second play: long pass attempt resulting in a 15-yard pass interference penalty. They were still 60 yards from the goal line and had just 55 seconds to get there. After two incompletions, Connella found Barnes again on a clutch 43-yard pass play that got the ball to Rocky River’s 17 yard line. Independence scored on the very next play, a pass, again to Barnes over the middle. The clock said 34 seconds and the Patriots had somehow retaken the lead at 34-27. The Patriots’ sideline was ecstatic and the home crowd was in despair. With so little time remaining, Independence had finally driven home the last stake, right?
The Ravens’ hopes were lifted when Lawson returned the squib kick off into Independence territory at the 46 yard line. Two passes and 31 yards later, the ball was at the 15 with 11.6 seconds left. The Ravens had to score a touchdown soon. They did on the next play. A pass from Rice to senior wide receiver Brandon Harris, who outfought two defenders for a 15-yard touchdown, got Rocky River within 34-33.
There was no hesitation; the Ravens were going for a two point conversion and the win.
Coach Fowler dialed up a roll right/throwback left pass to the tight end in the back of the end zone. The receiver was open and appeared to catch the pass for the win, but the referee ruled the ball had been trapped against the ground and therefore incomplete. The Patriots won the game 34-33. “We absolutely wanted to win it there. We had the momentum at the end and we weren’t looking to go to overtime. In that situation, I would make that call every time,” said Coach Fowler on going for two at the end of the game.
It was an emotional game. Both teams probably thought they had won and then lost the game a few times over. In the end, the Patriots and their fans went home jubilant while the Ravens were left shaking their heads and thinking of what might have been.
Game notes, what’s next
Rocky River Game Notes
Head Coach Jason Fowler was emotional when speaking with his team immediately following the game. “You guys played your hearts out,” he told them. “You had the best week of practice in this school’s entire existence and it showed in your play.” On his team’s effort, “I don’t think we could’ve played much better than we did tonight. They fought and fought and had an opportunity to win it. I was run- ning on the field because I thought he had caught the ball, but the official didn’t see it that way, and he had a better angle than me so that’s how it goes, but I’m so proud of this team. It’s just a very tough loss.”
The Ravens’ offense was locked in most of the night. They traded jabs and hay makers with a very potent Independence offense.
Quarterback Andre Rice did a good job of spreading the ball around, especially in the second half. Five different receivers caught passes. Rice finished the game with 181 yards passing and 112 yards on the ground.
“We wanted to show the people of Mint Hill that there’s another team in this town that can play football,” Rice explained after the game, “and I think we did that. We had this game circled on our calendar,” Rice continued. “It was a big game and we played well, just came up a little short.”
Junior running back Deron Davis got the bulk of the rushes, keeping the Patriots’ defense honest with 15 carries for 47 yards.
Ravens’ do-everything player Sidney Lawson scored a rushing touchdown, intercepted a pass and returned kicks for over 75 yards in the game.
The Ravens had a few players leave the game with minor injuries or cramps but they all returned to action later. “Something we have this year that we haven’t had in the past is quality depth, so when somebody goes down somebody else can step up and we don’t miss a beat. In a physical game like tonight’s you have to have that,” said Coach Fowler.
The Ravens have two regular season games remaining, next week at Ardrey Kell and the following week a home game against Myers Park.
Rocky River (6-3, 3-2) at Ardrey Kell (4-4, 1-4) Friday, 7 pm
On the prospects of bouncing back against the Ardrey Kell Knights next week, “Coach Hastings does a great job there,” Coach Fowler said, “They play extremely hard and don’t quit. Really it’s tough to find an easy game in our conference. I don’t think there are any. They will be ready to play us, and we need to come back and have another good week of practice. Our team has good leaders, and we will be ready to play.”
After starting the season 4-0, the Knights have lost four straight 4A Southwestern Conference games.
Ardrey Kell is another team Rocky River has never beaten, losing last year at home 38-13, and 35-7 the year prior.
(Compiled by Kevin Baker)
Independence game notes
Indy QB Jason Connella led his team to victory against the Ravens as any good QB does. The first downs resulting from Connella’s keeper runs during the second half helped sustain drives that led Indy to three of its five scores during the game. “This win gives us confidence going into Myers Park” said Connella, of his team’s play Friday night. “First time all year, came from behind late in the game,” said Geiler of his teams win in dramatic fashion over Rocky River.
Myers Park (5-4, 3-2) at Independence(8-1, 5-0) Friday 7pm
The Mustangs of Myers Park will travel to Indy Friday, as they square off against the Patriots. Myers Park is a team not to overlook. Although their hopes of a share of a conference championship have been almost erased, they would love nothing more than to give Independence its first loss in the tough Southwestern 4A conference. Myers park is averaging 25 points per game but has put up 35 or more points three times this season. The Mustangs will be led by QB Ross Jefferies, who has thrown for 1,321 yards. He has a balanced attack among four receivers who have combined for 14 touchdowns on the year. Running the ball for the Mustangs is Jaquavion Alexander with 792 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. In second place in rushing yards for Myers Park is Jefferies with 506 yards and six touchdowns. Jefferies and Alexander are well protected by senior OL Jack Knight and Quan Austin. Independence will present a tough passing game just like Myers Park with five players catching at least one pass for a touchdown this season. Isiah Robinson will come out of the backfield for Indy and hope to reach over 100 yards for the seventh time this year. The defense will need to be patient, and not take the bait like they did against Rocky River to avoid giving up touchdowns.