STORY AND PHOTOS BY RUSSELL VANNOZZI
Independence entered Friday’s game with Franklin needing to show improvement on defense.
The Eagles had allowed 38.3 points per game in their first four contests, leading to a dismal 1-3 record.
But this time around, the Eagle defense was on a mission to match the performance of its high-powered offense, and they did exactly that. That allowed Independence to roll to a 24-7 victory over the Rebels at Howard Gamble Stadium.
“Anytime you have a team that’s 1-3, how are they going to respond?” Independence coach Scott Blade said. “We had one of our best weeks of practice this week. We were at the point where we needed to win.”
The Eagles (2-3) forced five combined turnovers, including two interceptions apiece by Colby Logan and Zach Smith. Drew Cannon also recovered a fumble late in the game, and Independence held Franklin to just 216 yards of total offense.
Indy’s offense did its part, too. Quarterback Ethan Cash threw for 327 yards and two touchdowns on 27-of-37 passing, while receivers Isiah Collier (160 yards) and T.J. Sheffield (91 yards) both had impressive showings.
“He threw a couple of balls that came out like lasers,” Blade said of Cash. “If T.J. gets double coverage and [Collier] gets single [coverage], we think we have the advantage.”
Cash, a Summit transfer, started in place of injured senior QB Nathan Cisco. But there wasn’t any drop-off in offensive production.
“It was a must-win,” Cash said of the contest. “I gave the ball to my athletes, and they did their thing.”
Collier and Sheffield each caught touchdowns from Cash, while Sheffield also rushed for a one-yard score in the fourth quarter. Kicker Weston Landry nailed a 20-yard field goal to round out the Eagle scoring.
On the other side, it was a forgettable night for Franklin (2-3) and quarterback Josh Nichols, who threw four interceptions and lost a fumble. The Rebels went scoreless in the second half.
“My biggest disappointment is our lack of composure, and that starts with me,” Franklin coach Donnie Webb said. “We’ve got to clean that up. We have to beat Franklin before we can beat anybody else.”
Franklin’s lone score came on an eight-yard run from senior Matt Gaca in the second quarter. The Rebel tailback finished with 97 rushing yards and 33 receiving yards.
“We couldn’t sustain any drives offensively,” Webb said. “We were able to get Matt moving, but once we got behind, that’s when the turnovers really started.”
Blade said he expects Cisco back after the team’s upcoming bye week and that both Eagle quarterbacks will continue to see action behind center.
“We’ll let [Cisco] heal and get ready, but we’ve got a couple of quarterbacks that can play,” Blade said. “We’re excited about that.”
The Rebels host Hendersonville (4-1) next Friday at 7 p.m.
Below is a slideshow by Vannozzi.