MINT HILL, NC – The Independence Patriots football team fell just short of an upset victory over the #1 seed Grimsley Whirlies in Greensboro on Friday night. The weather was clear but very cold for this football game. This contest may have been the biggest matchup in the state of North Carolina on Friday when these two teams locked horns in an exciting game.
The #8 Patriots scored first when Bryce Lofton intercepted a pass on the Grimsley 49 yard line. The offense put together a nice 51 yard drive capped by the ‘Mini Fridge” Khalil Hoke the short yardage specialist on a 2 yard rumble to give Indy a 6-0 lead. The PAT was good for a 7-0 early advantage.
On the ensuing kick-off Grimsley’s Terrell Anderson would return the ball to the house on an exciting 95 yard touchdown. The 2-point conversion was good on a quick pass from QB Ryan Stephens to Anderson and the Whirlies led 8-7.
On the next possession, Indy is driving, but an interception by Deon McLaughlin of a Justin Little pass put the ball on the 39 yard line. Mitchell Summers rushed to the 15 yard line for a big gain. From 2 yards out, Stephens ran a QB keeper into the end zone. The PAT was good, and Grimsley now had a 14-7 edge.
On the kick-off Shaun Soloman made a nifty return down to the Whirlies 35 yard line. But his effort was hurt by a holding penalty thus ending the 1st quarter.
In the 2nd quarter, Indy had the football, Little rumbled for a long run putting the ball on the Grimsley 36 yard line for an Indy 1st down. Emmanuel Teah followed with an 11 yard dash to the 25 yard line. With the ball now on the 14 yard line, Little connected with Sincere McIntyre for a 12 yard reception moving the chains. On 1st down, Teah smacks into the end zone, and Locklear’s PAT is good to tie the score at 14 all.
However, on Grimsley’s next drive Stephens connects with Anderson for a 68 yard pass, catch and run touchdown to the house. The 2-point conversion failed and the score was 20-14.
After a QB sack, Grimsley forced Indy to punt. Stephens on a QB keeper for 59 yards scored a huge touchdown when he crossed the goal line. The 2-point conversion this time was good when Mitchell Summers rushed into the end zone. The Whirlies increased their lead to 28-14.
Now with Indy driving as the scoreboard clock winding down, Little tries to squeeze a pass at the 35 yard line that is intercepted with one minute remaining. The first half comes to an end when Indy’s Khalil Hoke sacks the QB on the Patriots 49 yard line. The first half belonged to the #1 seed Whirlies 28-14.
In the 3rd quarter the Whirlies struck first which seemed to give them a comfortable lead with 10 minutes on the clock. Ja’carion Maynard rumbled to the 45 and 34 yard lines of Indy. Then Summers from the 23 scored on a solid rush from scrimmage extending the Whirles lead to 42-21. The 2-point conversion was good on a pass to Ryan Nolan making it 36-14.
Indy’s Justin Little on the next possession driving located McIntyre for a 35 yard pass completion for a touchdown. The PAT was good by Locklear and the score was now 36-21 with Indy in striking distance.
But Grimsley starting their next drive from their own 37 yard line put together a 63 yard scoring drive. The drive was capped by a 24 yard rumble by Summers for what would turn out to be the winning touchdown. The 2-point conversion to Nolan Albright was good and the hosts had a commanding 44-21 lead ending the 3rd quarter.
In the final quarter, Indy began what would have been a remarkable comeback performance. They took charge of the 4th quarter outscoring their opponent 15-0, but came up short. This Patriot team is resilient, well coached, they never quit and keep coming at you for the entire football game.
Indy took possession and quickly matriculates the football downfield. With the ball on the Grimsley 33 yard line, Little finds Brian Crowder for a key pass completion to the 2 yard line. On the next play, Little uses his athleticism and dashes into the end zone. The PAT is good, the score is now 44-28.
The Indy defense holds the Whirlies forcing a punt giving the visitors good field position. With the ball on the hosts 43 yard line, Little connects with Sincere McIntyre for a 43 yard pass, catch and run touchdown. On the 2-point conversion Little finds TE Will Brown on a quick slant over the middle to make the score 44-36 with 7 minutes remaining. We now have the makings of a barnburner, with plenty of football remaining and Indy with the momentum.
The Patriots defense who played like warriors in the 4th quarter forced the mighty Whirlies offense to punt. Indy takes possession with 4 minutes now remaining on their own 37 yard line. The offense drove the ball down to the Grimsley 15 yard line with the assistance of a late hit penalty. But a 5 yard loss pushed the ball back to 20 yard line. Indy seemed to pick up a 1st down, but a questionable holding call negated the play, and sent them backwards to the 30 yard line on 4th down. They could not convert and turned the ball over on downs with 1:57 remaining. Grimsley picked up a key first down and was able to survive the Patriots late charge with a 44-36 quarterfinal victory.
This is the first time since 2009 that Indy has made it to the Sweet 16. After the contest Indy head football coach DJ McFadden drained, but very proud of what his team has accomplished this season. ” I think in a game of this magnitude at that time in the game you let the kids decide the outcome, but in the same breathe our players have got to be good in those situations,” this referring to the holding call at the end of the game. “Nonetheless, we didn’t execute the things we needed to do to win the game. This is part of our process as a program. To get to where we want to go you have to go through a loss like this. We will be back.”
The coach then added, ” I couldn’t be more proud of what the seniors accomplished this year and the legacy they left behind this season. What they laid down this season has set us up for future success. They have put the “Big I” back where we belong as one of the top teams in Charlotte and in the state.”