Story and Video By SAM McGAW
Centennial squares off with Independence in a Thursday night district bout.
Independence (4-2, 1-1) at Centennial (6-1, 2-1), 7 p.m. Thursday*
Thursday night’s game between the Centennial Cougars and Independence Eagles is a matchup between two programs that are looking to get back on track after recently suffering disappointing losses.
The Eagles, who are coming off a bye week, are riding a two-game losing streak after giving up 29 unanswered points in the fourth quarter of a 43-42 defeat against Blackman on Sept. 26.
“I think our kids have responded appropriately,” said Indy head coach Scott Blade. “It was a bye week, so we got to work on some of the things we needed to work on. There’s a lot of football to be played, so the kids are excited about finishing off the season on a high note.”
As for the Cougars, they’re hoping to rebound after losing 24-0 to Ravenwood a week ago.
“We’ve had a great week of practice so far,” said CHS head coach Brian Rector. “The attitude has been great, and so has the concentration and effort. I’m really proud of the way they’ve come back, at least in practice. We just have to have that kind of effort and attitude in the game on Thursday.”
Centennial’s offense will attempt to get back to its explosive ways after gaining only 110 total yards last Friday.
“Centennial is coming off a tough loss and I know they’re going to be hungry,” said Blade. “I’m expecting to see a really good and physical football team. They have a downhill running attack and one heck of a receiver. We know they’re going to be ready for what we do and we’re expecting a really good game.”
The Eagles’ defense has the task of going against Centennial’s trio of talented playmakers in wide receiver Emanuel Hall (22 rec., 455 yds, 7 TDs) and running backs Deon Sanders (707 rush yds, 102 receiving yds, 11 TDs) and Tyrel Dodson (240 rush yds, 4 TDs).
“We have to gang tackle and try to eliminate the big plays as much as we can,” Blade stated. “What it also comes down to is assignment football. Everybody has a job.”
A big key for Centennial will be its ability to not give the ball away.
Against Ravenwood, CHS quarterbacks Owen Rietveld and Owen Roth combined for three interceptions.
While the turnovers were a problem, Rector said it’d be counterproductive for him to tell his quarterbacks to avoid making those mistakes.
“If you talk about protecting the football with a quarterback, I think you can make them nervous and then they start second-guessing themselves,” he said. “Honestly, what we want them to do is be a little more loose. As a quarterback, you have to be willing to trust your reads, make the throw and do what you’ve been coached to do.”
On the other side of the ball, the Cougars have to find a way to slow down Independence’s fast-paced spread attack
With junior quarterback Andrew Bunch at the helm, the Eagles have stormed to an average of 36.5 PPG this year.
“What we have to do is take it one play at a time and understand that while we may have success on one play, we have to line back up immediately and play the next,” Rector said. “That’s what we are going to have to ask our guys to do this week.”
Bunch has recorded 1,514 passing yards, 268 rushing yds, 21 TDs (6 run) and two interceptions.
His top targets are wide receivers Nate Johnson (32 rec., 656 yds, 10 TDs) and Seth Huner (34/624/3).
Not only can the Eagles beat teams through the air, but they can also control the game by utilizing running backs Dom Childress (462 rush yds, 80 receiving yds, 3 TDs) and Jordan Pope (247 rush yds, 45 receiving yds, 3 TDs) on the ground.
“There are two things that really stress the defense and that is a team that likes to go up-tempo and a team that can run it right down your throat,” Rector said. “Independence is very good at both running and throwing the ball. They present a lot of problems for everybody and have had great success on offense this year.”
One advantage the Cougars have on defense is their pass rush, as they’ve recorded 23 sacks this fall.
Led by linebacker Chandler Stump (37 tackles, 9 TFL, 7 sacks, 1 FF) and defensive lineman Dylan Phillips (37 tackles, 8 TFL, 4 sacks, 1 int.), Centennial will look to disrupt Bunch’s timing throughout the night.
If he makes any mistakes, safety Trent McDermott (35 tackles, 4 TFL, 3 ints) and linebacker Tyrel Dodson (17 tackles, 1 sack, 2 ints, 1 TD) have the ability to make him pay.
“We know they’re going to move around on defense and try to pressure our quarterback and make it hard for us to get a play off,” Blade said. “We just have to make good decisions and hope for the best.”