INDEPENDENCE — Prior to kickoff, Independence junior quarterback Kyle Stefanski used social media to urge fans to come out and support the Blue Devils as they did battle with Berkshire.
“We’re two wins away from playoffs and it’s been (six years) since we last made it,” Stefanski tweeted. “Don’t let the rain be an excuse to not come tonight.”
The rain fell and the sun didn’t shine, however, the Blue Devils did.
Independence topped the Badgers 47-7 on Friday night on the Alumni Field turf at Stan Skoczen Stadium.
And for the Blue Devils it all started on the defensive side of the ball.
“We really played a complete game as a defense,’ senior quarterback Ben Artrip said. “We shut down the run almost completely and we gave up barley any passing yards.”
Independence held Berkshire to just 19 yards of total offense in the first half and the starters pitched a shutout in their 3 ½ quarters of play.
“I thought coach (Dominic) Guttadauria and coach (Dan) Molls came up with a great defensive game plan to shut their running game down,” Independence coach Rick Adams said. “And the kids just executed. Give them credit.”
Independence got off to a raucous start as Berkshire fumbled the opening kickoff and junior Ian Smith connected on a 27-yard field goal, staking the Blue Devils to the early edge.
The Blue Devils could have inflicted much more damage in the opening 12 minutes, but they turned the ball over on downs twice inside the Badgers 30-yard line.
“We just stalled here or there and couldn’t finish,” Artrip said.
Independence finally found pay dirt as Stefanski and senior running back Stephen Molchan hooked up for a 26-yard gain that put the Blue Devils one yard away from a score. Junior running back Nick Mroczynski finished the drive off, giving the Blue Devils a 10-0 lead with 6:23 to play in the half.
Not a minute later, junior defensive lineman Adam Kuczmarski wrestled Berkshire senior quarterback Joe Hauser to the ground in the end zone for a safety.
Hauser finished the game just 8 for 20 through the air for 34 yards. Independence also recovered a Hauser fumble in the end zone for a Blue Devils defensive touchdown late in the third quarter.
His counterpart, Artrip — in his final regular-season game at Independence — was 5 of 9 through the air for 76 yards and a score. Artrip added 79 yards and a score via the ground.
“He played great,” Adams said. “We missed a couple things in the first half, and we took a look at halftime and made adjustments. He didn’t try to force things. It’s a cliché, but he let the game come to him.”
Artrip found Molchan on a little flare pass that broke loose for a 53-yard touchdown to open the second half, staking the Blue Devils to a 19-0 advantage.
Molchan chipped in 67 yards on the ground and a score.
Artrip sprinted in from 12 yards out with 6:47 to play in the third frame and the rout was on.
Senior running back Kevin Clymer led all rushers with 86 yards on 14 carries.
The Blue Devils shut the door on the regular season next week on the road at Cuyahoga Heights, which just knocked off the defending state champion, Kirtland, 21-0.
“It’s going to be battle,” Adams said. “We’ve seen them on film. They are a very good team. This is a playoff game for us. It’s going to be battle and we have to be ready.”
A Blue Devils win will almost assuredly lock up a playoff berth and a share of the Chagrin Valley Conference Valley Division title.
“We feel pretty confident,” Artrip said. “We’ve been the underdog all year. It’s nothing new. We know when we are clicking we are able to play with anyone.”