Saturday, January 28, 2023

Independence falls to Columbia in overtime

INDEPENDENCE — Independence junior quarterback Kyle Stefanski checked into Friday night’s season-opening game against Columbia for the first time early in the second quarter.

And he showed zero early-season rust.

Stefanski, with his team trailing by a touchdown, completed his first two passes, resulting in first downs.

His next three tosses went for long touchdowns.

Unfortunately, he and the Blue Devils came up short in a 29-21 overtime loss to Columbia at Alumni Field.

“It’s a life lesson and that’s why football is the greatest sport,” Independence coach Rick Adams said. “We put a lot of time and effort into this week and we didn’t get what we wanted, so how do we respond tomorrow. We still believe we are a good football team.”

The Blue Devils laid claim to 21-7 lead at halftime, but really struggled to move the ball, only running a few offensive plays in the final 24 minutes.

“We couldn’t get that rhythm going again in the second half,” Adams said. “I think we ran about 10 plays in the second half. We as coaches need to put our players in position to win, and we as coaches didn’t do that good of job in the second half. And you have to give Columbia credit as well.”

Columbia sophomore running back Brandon Colman was one player who had a rhythm not only in the second half, but the entire game.

He carried the ball 33 times for 148 yards and a touchdown, which pulled the Raiders to within 21-14 late in the third quarter.

Senior teammate Austin Sahlica — who made a living through the air, collecting 67 yards receiving and two scores — scored on the ground from five yards out to tie the game at 21 with 7:03 to play.

The Raiders had a couple other chances inside Blue Devils territory in the waning moments, but the Independence defense stiffened when it needed to.

“Our defense played well at times,” Adams said. “We had some big hits and forced a couple fumbles. The ball just didn’t bounce our way today.”

One of those unlucky instances taking place in overtime where Columbia senior quarterback Cody Schwartz— on a fourth down and long — chucked a prayer to the end zone that was answered as Sahlica came down with it, staking the Raiders to a 29-21 lead.

Independence had an opportunity to match that touchdown, but Stefanski fumbled a shotgun snap that Columbia recovered to end the contest.

The fumble was a minor blip on what was a strong performance from Stefanski. He threw for 143 yards and three touchdowns as he spread the ball around to five different receivers.

“He directed the offense,” Adams said. “He made good decisions. He put us in positions to be successful.”

The first of those scores was an 18-yard hookup with senior Adrian Pope while the second two — a 51- and 39-yard connection — went to junior Owen Ramm and senior Jason Bianco, respectively.

Last season, these two programs opened against each other with the Raiders collecting a 48-7 win on their way to the playoffs. Independence plodded through a 3-7 season.

Friday night was a different story, and amid the disappointment of defeat Adams remains confident about what lies ahead.

“We said look at the growth we had form last year to this year,” Adams said. “We are a good football team. We made some mistakes, and we will learn from them and get better. We are still looking playoffs. We believe we can be a playoff team. This game will be forgotten.”


Steve Hare
Steve Hare is the Chagrin Valley Conference's Sports Information Director. He also created and publishes, an online publication dedicated to providing hyperlocal coverage to area high school athletic programs. Hare began covering high school sports for the Lake County News Herald in 1997. Hare attended Willoughby South High School through the middle of his senior year, then graduated from Berkshire High School in Burton in 1986. He played football, wrestled and was an all-Geauga county baseball player (1986). He lives in Chardon with his wife Paulette and their children.

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