Gallery by Heather Belcher, More Photos to come
Wheeling – Independence running back Judah Price has spent the season breaking program and state records.
He saved his most important record-breaking performance for last.
Price and his offensive line produced the most prolific rushing performance in Super Six history, as the former ran the ball 32 times for a record 376 yards and four touchdowns, leading Independence to a 42-7 win over Hebert Hoover in the Class AA title game at Wheeling Island Stadium Friday and with it, the first state championship in program history.
Price’s performance was the highlight of a night that saw the Patriots tie or break seven state championship records.
Price, who earned Most Outstanding Player honors, broke the record of 355 rushing yards set in 2011 by Wheeling Central running back Gino Bianconi, while also topping the program’s single-game rushing record of 318 yards set by last year’s Kennedy Award winner Atticus Goodson
In total the Patriots piled up a Class AA state championship game record 548 yards of total offense Friday, with Price’s performance leading the way.
“The cherry on top is this MVP,” Price said. “This means everything to the community. This is something we’ve been working for since we were kids and it’s just so special.”
The Indy offense gave spectators an early taste of what was in store when it opened the contest with a 15-play, 71-yard drive that ended with a failed fourth-down conversion attempt at the Hoover 9, but it erased any jitters that may have been present.
“It gave us confidence that even though we didn’t score on that drive we would be back,” Indy head coach John H. Lilly said. “We wanted to see – they’ve got some good linemen. (Isaiah) Chapman, he’s good, Davis is good, they’re good guys and I want to tip my hat off to (Hoover head coach) Joey (Fields) and them because to start 0-2 and make it to Wheeling Island, that’s pretty great too.”
After forcing a punt that went out of bounds at the Indy 35 the Patriots capitalized on the field position, needing just five plays to a score on a three-yard plunge by Price.
From there the Indy defense did its worst, overcoming miscues along the way.
Facing fourth-and-17 after a Jordan Harvey sack two plays earlier, Hoover quarterback Dane Hatfield connected with Jacob Burns for a 20-yard completion and consequential conversion. Four plays and 13 yards later Price forced and recovered a Randy Hughart fumble at the Indy 5 that ended a prospective 13-play Hoover drive.
“They were driving down the field hard and I knew I had to make something happen,” Price said. “They gave it to (Hughart) and I saw he only had one hand on the ball so I took my opportunity and ripped it out. I tried to make something happen but somebody wrapped me up from behind and that was a huge play.”
Capitalizing on their first-quarter success, the Patriots needed only four plays to advance to the Hoover 1 following the fumble recovery with a 42-yard Price run and a 27-yard pitch and catch from Trey Bowers to Cyrus Goodson accounting for the chunk plays. Bowers capped the drive on the fifth play, powering over a pile of bodies for a yard to make it a 14-0 game, which it remained through halftime.
Out of the break Price broke his first record of the night after a Levi Paxton punt pinned Indy at the Hoover 6. Price took a toss and juked and bolted 94 yards to the end zone, toppling the all-class record for longest run from scrimmage to make it a 20-0 game.
Meanwhile the Hoover offense failed to solve the Independence defense which held the Huskies to a Class AA Super Six record of 31 yards rushing on 27 carries.
Of the Huskies’ 10 drives, seven of them started on their own 30 or better but sustaining them and scoring proved difficult.
“It was tough to convert on things,” Fields said. “We had opportunities but we’ve got to go make plays against their athletes. They took away stuff at the line of scrimmage and made us one-dimensional. We became one-dimensional but we had some opportunities but the protection issue happened. They were winning the one-on-one battles. They’re good, very good and we’ve got a good football team too but they deserve it.”
“I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again that trust is insane,” Independence all-state linebacker Jordan Harvey said. “We ran man coverage the whole night and trusted our corners and safeties to do their thing and we got a lot of pressure on (Hoover QB) Dane (Hatfield) tonight. The defense performed the game plan exactly how we needed and I couldn’t ask for a better way to go out and I don’t think any of the other seniors would disagree.”
Leading 20-0 after three quarters, Price put the finishing touches on the victory with a 12-yard rushing score 36 seconds into the frame, adding the conversion run for a 28-0 lead.
Hoover found life on the next drive when Hatfield connected with Andrew Rollyson on a 24-yard scoring strike but touchdown runs of 41 yards by Bowers and six yards by Price accounted for the final points, extinguishing hope.
With 307 yards early in the fourth quarter, word circulated down to Lilly that his star runner was in rare air and he made the call to keep Price in the game.
“I didn’t become cognizant until one of the coaches said he needed 20 more yards or so,” Lilly said. “I was going to pull him and we weren’t going to score on that last drive because didn’t want to show any disrespect to Hoover but when they called down and said ‘Hey John, Judah only needs 20 yards’ so I was going to get that 20 yards. He’s a senior and it’s the only time in his life you’re going to do it. If people want to get mad they can get mad but he earned it and he deserved it.
“I didn’t do anything. All you’ve got to do is turn around and hand the ball to Judah and I’m smart enough to do that. It was really the kids. They deserve it and I had very little to do with it.”
It’s the first football title for Independence as well as Lilly who started his career over 30 years ago at his alma mater in Bluefield under Freddy Simon.
“I tell you what, that’s what it’s sweet for right there,” Lilly said, pointing to his wife Linda and sons Troy and Max. “You don’t make it for 30 years in the coaching profession if you don’t have a special woman that’s there every day. We’ve been through some stuff but you don’t make it without that and that’s what it’s all about. I’m happy for them and everything they’ve been through too. It’s been a family thing.”
In all Independence broke records for fewest rushing yards allowed in a Class AA title game (31), most rushing yards by a single player in all classes (376), longest run from scrimmage (94 yards), most offensive yards in a Class AA title game (548), most rushing yards in a Class AA title game (494) and tied the Class AA records for most rushing touchdowns (6) and most punts forced (6).
The Patriots wrap up their season with a 13-0 record while Hoover finishes 10-3.
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