Gallery by Heather Belcher
Coal City – For all of the record breaking numbers Judah Price and the Independence offense have put up this season the Patriots’ playoff victory Friday night largely hinged on their ability to maintain their eye-popping pace on defense (3.4 points allowed per game).
With the Indy offense unable to finish drives, the defense answered the call and closed out No. 15 Bluefield.
With the Beavers driving, down eight with a little over two minutes to go, senior Colton Miller rushed off the right edge, strip sacking Bluefield quarterback Caleb Fuller and allowing Logan Isom to recover the clinching turnover in a 20-12 victory for the host Patriots Friday night.
A strip sack and Indy recovery will end it
— Tyler Jackson (@TJack94) November 12, 2022
The win sends the Patriots to the Class AA quarterfinals where they’ll face No. 7 Fairmont Senior next week for the third consecutive season.
The call to send Miller, who rushed freely, was executed at the right time.
“That was a great call by coach Scott Cuthbert,” Independence head coach John H. Lilly said. “Coach Cuthbert made that call. We went nickel and we were trying to be patient with it. We were running the ball and eventually they’re going to have to throw and it worked out well. Colton timed it really well. Colton’s made big plays all year and it was a good play by him and good call by Coach Cuthbert.”
It caught the Beavers completely off guard.
“They stunted off that edge and it was a good call on their part,” Bluefield coach Fred Simon said. “They brought too many people and we couldn’t pick it up. They just kind of gambled and if we completed it there it might’ve been six but it was just a good call on their part. They hadn’t done it all game and were smart in doing it.”
It was the final of three turnovers the Patriots forced with one leading to a short field and Independence’s second touchdown.
After turning the ball over on downs on their first two drives, the Patriots chippy run game was jolted by a pair of 15-yard runs by Judah Price and Trey Bowers. An 18-yard rush by Price three plays later put the Patriots inside the Beaver 5 where Price eventually found the end zone to make it a 7-0 game.
Meanwhile the Beavers failed to get anything going.
Their first two drives netted minus-14 yards and their third, following Indy’s scoring drive, seemed promising but a Cyrus Goodson interception proved otherwise.
To Bluefield’s credit its defense was efficient at not breaking, forcing another turnover on downs at its own 27 following Fuller’s first interception but the senior quarterback misfired on his next throw and Price was the beneficiary with a pick at the Indy 46, returned to the Bluefield 40, eventually capping a 10-play scoring drive with a five-yard run for a 14-0 advantage.
Price with an INT after a TOD pic.twitter.com/ri34z0fj3n
— Tyler Jackson (@TJack94) November 12, 2022
The Patriots stumbled through the third quarter however, punting twice and fumbling to give Bluefield the breaks it needed.
“We knew they were going to do a good job,” Lilly said of the defense. “They played their hearts out and it was a great win over a good team. You don’t beat a Bluefield team two years in a row – that doesn’t happen very often. The rain, sometimes everybody was saying the rain is going to hurt them but we learned a lesson with tempo. We couldn’t go fast either because we had to get dry balls in. It took us a little bit out. We tried in the third quarter but we needed to get dry balls in.”
Having primarily taken to the air through the first half, the Beavers took a different approach on their second drive out of the break, loading the box on offense and it paid off. A 30-yard scamper by Chris Patton gave Bluefield its first points of the contest.
When the Beavers did take to the air again in the fourth quarter they found success, hitting Indy’s weak spots in the middle of the field. Fuller connected with Brayden Fong three times for 73 yards, including a 15-yard touchdown pass, on a six-play 80-yard scoring drive that put the Beavers in position to tie the game but the Patriots held on the conversion attempt.
“We oversold to make sure they couldn’t throw the screen game,” Lilly said. “They popped a couple on us downfield but overall I thought we played pretty good. You’re not going to hold them to nothing. They’ve got too many skill people and good coaches. In my opinion it was championship level football and it just happened to happen in the first round.
Facing in-game adversity for the first time all season, the Patriots clicked at the right time, marching 47 yards to the Bluefield 1, facing fourth-and-goal. Indy QB Trey Bowers capped the drive with a sneak, accounting for the final points of the game, though not cementing it.
The Patriots marched to Bluefield 6 on their next drive, hoping to seal it but a fourth down stop by the Beaver defense gave them one last gasp before Miller ended it.
“I think they’re pretty close,” Lilly said. “They hold each other accountable and they’re a very close football team. We live by the creed of we don’t care who gets the credit as long as we win. Next week we might have to throw 40 times but tonight in the rain we weren’t going to take a chance throwing any interceptions. I think we had five opportunities inside the 20 to score and we didn’t get them so that’s something we need to work on but the rain didn’t help things.”
Price led Independence on offense with a career-high 42 carries for 191 yards and two touchdowns.
The Patriots now await a Fairmont Senior team that’s ended their season each of the last two years, including last year’s Class AA title game. The time and date will be announced Sunday afternoon.