After a run back to the Class AA semifinals, it may seem like the worst is behind Independence. The Patriots outplayed Class AA big bads Bluefield and Fairmont Senior to get to this point.
Unfortunately, that is rarely the case. It takes 12 weeks of your best football to get to this point and no one makes it to the penultimate game of the season by accident. The Patriots’ semifinal opponent, North Marion, is no exception.
“I see our third consecutive traditional powerhouse that we have to play,” Indy head coach John H. Lilly said. “They are a strong, very strong football team. No one has scored many points on them except one team in a game. It’s going to be another tough task.”
The Huskies have lost just two games this year: one in overtime against Fairmont Senior and the other against another semifinalist in Frankfort.
North Marion quarterback Casey Minor has been the team’s main 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 main target is Landon Frey, who has 32 receptions for 548 yards and 11 touchdowns. No other Husky has more than 300 receiving yards.
The Huskies’ need to carry their offense through the Minor may bode well for Indy, as their defense has intercepted four passes this postseason, allowing just two passes.
Despite their success in the passing game this year, the Huskies couldn’t make it work last week in a 13-12 road win over Roane County. Minor passed for just 33 yards, but rushed for 103 and his team’s two touchdowns. Lilly isn’t putting too much emphasis on those skewed numbers.
“Roane County can make you look like that because they never let you have the ball,” Lilly said. “You can’t really accept the results of that game because Roane plays a different style of football. We learned that last year but everything happens (Minor). He is a very good ball player. I think his offense goes through it this year.”
Through 11 games, the Patriot defense has allowed 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 shoulder-width apart to knees the size of baseballs, the Patriots have had to adjust their approach to practice.
“We didn’t hit a lot last week and we like to hit a lot during the week,” Lilly said. “We don’t slow down, but because of the injuries we have to let these guys recover. We had a few separated shoulders and a broken knee here and there, but I feel like we’re going to come into the game strong for the first time in a long time.”
On the offensive side of the ball, it’s been business as usual for the Patriots.
Judah Price rushed for 2,117 yards and 43 touchdowns, while Trey Bowers threw 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 touchdown, opening up the entire offense for his teammates. The only things that could apparently slow down Indy’s 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 been too insistent on that,” Lilly said. “For every turnover he’s had, he’s had three 50-yard passes and two 60-yard runs, so it’s a pretty good trade-off. I’ll stick with the scores he got on those turnovers. Trey is a stud. He came into the season as the No. 1 or 2 ranking junior in state and is selfless enough to go from first-team receiver to quarterback knowing he might not get all-state because he does. . He does his best and went to work for the team. The strength of this team is their generosity.”
Each of Indy’s playoff opponents has given Lilly cause for concern. Bluefield’s ability to produce big plays and Fairmont’s special teams and defense have been at the top of his list in recent weeks. North Marion is not exempt.
“I just think they’re fundamentally solid defensively,” Lilly said. “They are very, very difficult to move the ball. They have two inside linebackers who are very well trained and get to the ball. They have a defensive lineman who is pretty good and it’s going to be a handful. They are a very good defensive football team, but I guess by the time you get to this point, everyone is. But the best compliment is that all three phases of the game work for them. They’re not really good at one and bad at the other, but they’re good at all three.”
However, Lilly’s other challenge has little to do with North Marion. Following an emotional win over two-time defending champion Fairmont Senior and the week after Thanksgiving, Lilly is tasked with making sure his team knows they need to win two more games to be state champions. He is confident that they can handle success, but admits that you never really know.
“It’s never easy to know if they are or not,” Lilly said. “There is a lot of white noise out there and we talked about how to deal with it earlier in the week. That white noise, all the stuff around the game doesn’t matter. We have to concentrate on the game. I hope we have strong enough senior leadership to fight that and not accept it, but that’s something I don’t think we’ll know until we go out on Friday night.”
The start is scheduled for 7:30 pm in Coal City.
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