With starting quarterback Kyle Stefanski limited to playing defense due to an injury, Independence turned to backup Nick Mroczynski to lead the Blue Devils in their Chagrin Valley Conference Valley Division showdown against visiting Hawken on Friday.
It took the Blue Devils some time to find their rhythm before cruising to a 38-8 win.
“We knew that Hawken, even though they’re down in numbers, those kids play hard and they’re well-coached,” said Independence coach Rick Adams. “They gave us everything they had.”
Mroczynski’s presence under center forced the Blue Devils to modify their offense. Instead of a balanced attack, Independence focused on running the football.
“For his first game, Nick did really well,” Adams said. “We were kind of limited with him in there versus having Kyle in there, so we ran the ball a lot more. He did a good job of getting us in the end zone in the second quarter.”
Independence’s first three drives ended with an interception, a punt and a turnover on downs.
The fourth set the tone for the next two and a half quarters.
Independence used an 11-play, 63-yard drive to take a 7-0 lead with 5:01 left in first half. Mroczynski and Robert Artrip combined to carry the ball 10 times for 55 yards with Mroczynski finishing off the long drive with an 8-yard touchdown run.
Mroczynski went on to run for a game-high 127 yards on nine carries.
“I was pretty comfortable because the coaches told me what I have to do and made it simple for me and Kyle also made it easy for me by giving me tips,” Mroczynski said of leading the Blue Devils on offense.
The Blue Devils recovered an onside kick attempt and Artrip capped a 49-yard drive with a 6-yard touchdown run that pushed Independence’s lead to 14-0.
A pooch kick on the ensuing kickoff also resulted in the Blue Devils taking possession and once again Independence turned the fortuitous bounce into points when Ian Smith converted on a 27-yard field goal try with three seconds left in the half.
“We really had some good fortune there in the second quarter,” Adams said. “We recovered an onside kick after the first score that led to another score and pooched another one and got a good bounce that we were able to recover and that led to points.”
Mroczynski threw a 40-yard touchdown pass to Nick Laski early in the third quarter and Trevor Thompson added a 74-yard run in the fourth to close out the scoring.
Artrip, who also returned an interception for a touchdown in the fourth quarter, eclipsed the 100-yard mark with 108 on 19 carries in leading Independence to 315 yards on the ground.
“We had a kind of diamond formation that we’ve used a little bit this year but with Nick at quarterback that gave us a little more dual-threat action with Robert and the line did a nice job of opening holes,” Adams said. “Robert does a nice job of getting that one foot down and making the cut. Nick did a proper job of making reads on the Jet Sweep.”
Hawken got on the scoreboard late in the fourth quarter when T.J. Perusek threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Sam Makuch.
The Hawks then recovered the onside kick but Artrip ended the threat six plays later.
Independence limited Hawken to just 227 yards of offense.
Luke Clymer recorded two sacks in the win.
“We started out kind of slow defensively too, but when it came time to step up and make plays our defensive line really did a nice job,” Adams said. “Luke had some great plays and Robert’s interception sealed the game. Ian Smith had a lot of pressure on the quarter. They had a few drives that got down inside our 20 but the defense stepped up and kept them out of the end zone.”
Independence improved to 5-2 while Hawken dropped to 1-6.
The Blue Devils host Richmond Heights next Friday.