After a return run to the Class AA semifinals it may seem like the worst is behind Independence. The Patriots blew past Bluefield and Fairmont Senior, the big bads in Class AA, to get to this point.
Unfortunately rarely is that ever the case. It takes 12 weeks of your best football to get to this point and nobody ever makes the penultimate game of the season by accident. The Patriots’ semifinal opponent, North Marion, is no exception.
“I see our third straight traditional powerhouse in a row that we’ve got to play,” Indy head coach John H. Lilly said. “They’re a strong, very strong football team. No one’s scored a lot of points on them except one team in one game. It’s going to be another difficult task.”
The Huskies dropped just two games this year – one an overtime thriller against Fairmont Senior and the other to another semifinalist in Frankfort.
North Marion quarterback Casey Minor has been the team’s top offensive threat this season, causing headaches in the running and passing game. He leads the team in rushing yards with 725 yards and 12 touchdowns, rushing for 147 more yards than teammate Aaron Hoffman. As a passer Minor has thrown for 1,314 yards and 18 touchdowns. His top target is Landon Frey who has 32 receptions for 548 yards and 11 scores. No other Husky has more than 300 yards receiving.
The Huskies’ need to run their offense through Minor may bode well for Indy as its defense has intercepted four passes this postseason, allowing just two passing scores.
Despite their success in the passing game this year, the Huskies couldn’t get it going last week in a 13-12 road win over Roane County. Minor threw for just 33 yards but rushed for 103 and both of his team’s touchdowns. Lilly isn’t putting too much stock into those skewed numbers.
“Roane County can make you look like that because they never let you get the ball,” Lilly said. “You can’t really go with the results from that game because Roane plays a different style of football. We learned that last year but everything goes through (Minor). He’s a real good ball player. I think their offense runs through him this year.”
Through 11 games the Patriot defense has given up just five touchdowns (the other two have come on kickoff returns). That’s been impressive considering the litany of injuries they’ve suffered and played through this postseason. From separated shoulders to knees the size of softballs, the Patriots have had to adjust their practice approach.
“We didn’t hit a lot last week and we like to hit a lot through the week,” Lilly said. “We don’t taper off but due to injures we have to let these guys heal up. We’ve had some separated shoulders and a tore up knee here and there but I feel like we’re going into the game strong for the first time in awhile.”
On the offensive side of the ball its been business as usual for the Patriots.
Judah Price has rushed for 2,117 yards and 43 touchdowns while Trey Bowers has thrown for 1,455 yards and 11 scores. Receiver Cyrus Goodson had his best game of the season last week with five receptions for 138 yards and a score, opening up the entire offense for his teammates. The only things that could seemingly slow the Indy attack are self inflicted wounds. Bowers has had three turnovers during the Patriots’ two playoff games – two in the red zone – but Lilly isn’t concerned.
“I’ve never harped on it very much,” Lilly said. “For every one turnover he’s had he’s had three 50-yard passes and two 60-yard runs so it’s a pretty good tradeoff. I’ll take the scores he’s got over those turnovers. Trey’s a stud. He came into the season as the No. 1 or 2 ranked junior in the state and he’s so unselfish to move from a first-team all-state receiver to quarterback knowing he might not get all-state because he does. He tries his best and he ponied up for the team. The strength of this team is their unselfishness.”
Each of Indy’s playoff opponents have given Lilly cause for concern. Bluefield’s ability to produce big plays and Fairmont’s special teams and defense have been atop his list in previous weeks. North Marion isn’t exempt.
“I just think they’re so fundamentally sound defensively,” Lilly said. “They’re very, very difficult to move the ball on. They’ve got two inside linebackers that are really well-coached and get to the ball. They’ve got a defensive lineman that’s pretty dang good and he’s going to be a handful. They’re just a very good defensive football team but I guess when you get to this point everybody is. But the best compliment is all three phases of the game work for them. They’re not really good at one and bad at the other but good at all three.”
Lilly’s other challenge has little to do with North Marion though. Coming off an emotional win over two-time defending champion Fairmont Senior and Thanksgiving week following, Lilly’s been tasked with making sure his team is aware they need to win two more games to be state champions. He’s confident they can handle the success but admits you never truly know.
“It’s never easy to figure out if they are or not,” Lilly said. “There’s a lot of white noise out there and we talked about dealing with that earlier in the week. That white noise, all of the stuff around the game doesn’t matter. We have to focus in on the game. I’m hoping that we’ve got strong enough senior leadership to fight through that and not buy into it but that’s one thing I don’t think we’ll know until we get out there Friday night.”
Kickoff is slated for 7:30 p.m. in Coal City.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter @tjack94