INDEPENDENCE—Maybe it was the camouflage uniforms the Ohio National Guard provided or even the indomitable spirit of the service-members they were representing.
Whatever it was, Independence played the second half of Friday’s night’s showdown against visiting Orange with an unbeatable mentality and will to win, which led to a 21-13 come-from-behind victory over the Lions.
“That just shows the senior leadership that we have and the confidence we have in each other,” Independence coach Rick Adams said of his team rallying back from a 13-0 deficit.
The Lions, who were making their first appearance of the 2020 season, took a 7-0 lead on Greg Beard’s 21-yard touchdown reception with 57 seconds left in the first quarter.
Independence later recovered a fumble to thwart another Orange scoring opportunity but Steve Daly picked off a pass and returned it 28 yards for a touchdown that pushed Orange’s lead to 13-0.
“We put the defense in a bad spot giving up a touchdown there,” Adams said. “They made a great play on the interception. No. 15 went up and snagged it.”
Down but not out, the Blue Devils, who improved to 3-0 for the first time since 2012, played an inspired second half.
It started with Casey McGhee perfectly executing an onside kick, which Eric Mitrisin recovered, to give the Blue Devils possession near midfield.
Michael Tommer then went to work.
He completed a 42-yard pass on fourth-and-11 then threw a four-yard touchdown pass to pull the Blue Devils to within 13-7.
“Michael came back in the second half, stayed calm and that’s what a quarterback is supposed to do,” Adams said. “He made the right reads and plays. The first interception he had, he made the right call. He audible because we had the slant. He had the right read but he’s got to get some rust off after not playing last week.”
After Independence’s defense forced a punt, Tommer did it again, this time connecting with Kyle Zygmunt on an 18-yard touchdown and a 14-13 Blue Devil lead.
Rory Corrigan closed out the scoring with a two-yard touchdown plunge. Corrigan set up his own score with a big run on the drive that included several broken tackles.
“Rory was phenomenal running the ball,” Adams said. “Our line stepped up. I don’t think we had any yards in the first half total. In the second half, the line was opening holes for Rory, who ran like crazy and broke some tackles.”
Tommer closed out the game 11-of-18 for 181 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
“We always talk about ‘So what, now what?’” Adams said. “We kept on telling him so what, you made a mistake, and now what? He came out and played a great second half and led the team.”
Orange dropped to 0-1 after a strong start.
The onside kick to open the second half was just the beginning of their struggles in the second half.
“That was a good call on their part but we’ve got to be more alert than that,” Orange coach Adam Bechlem said. “We were just tired. This is the first time we’ve seen anyone with a different colored uniform on. I think they had a scrimmage and two games so they were 10 quarters ahead of us. It is what it is; I don’t know if it’s an excuse or a reason, but one of the things you do is get in shape by playing football. It’s difficult to do that when you can’t play football and you take two weeks off.”
Beard led the Lions with 72 rushing yards on 21 carries and he had the receiving touchdown. Tyler Hoffman also caught four passes for 35 yards.
“It was a great start to the game,” Bechlem said. “The first half was great. We did a lot of good things but in the end, it wasn’t enough to win against a good team. Independence is a good team. They have some seniors and some experience and explosive players. You’ve got to be able to play better and play longer.”