The game last night between Independence and visiting Walnut Ridge was a story of two halves.
Independence won the first half by 14 points, relying mostly on a running game featuring senior running back Vincent Rambo, who finished with 177 yards on 28 carries.
But Walnut Ridge won the second half and the game 47-41, relying on an odd formation on offense and a stifling defense to improve to 7-3 and 6-1 in the City League South Division and narrowly miss the playoffs. Independence, which was an even longer shot to make the playoffs, fell to 6-4 and 5-2.
Independence scored on four consecutive possessions between 11:33 and 4:24 of the second quarter to take a 35-15 lead.
That’s when Walnut Ridge broke out its muddle formation: four offensive lineman and a tight end to the left side of the field with a receiver behind them, the center by himself to the right side, quarterback Marquez Toney in the shotgun and Wisconsin recruit Rob Wheelwright flanked to the right.
From the formation, Toney can throw, pass or pitch. He did all three on two series late in the first half to close the gap to 35-21 and keep the Scots in the game.
“We like to run the muddle because it gives us an opportunity to isolate our best players — especially (Toney) and (Wheelwright) in one-on-one situations against the defense. It loosened them up,” Walnut Ridge coach Byron Mattox said.
Independence ran the ball well in a steady downpour in the first half, led by Rambo (120 yards on 17 carries) and Naijae Manning (145 yards on 16 carries). But in the second half, the Scots stacked the box with seven, eight and sometimes nine defenders, ran a series of blitzes from inside and out and stymied Independence for nearly 24 minutes. The 76ers didn’t help their cause, committing penalties on five consecutive plays — including two when the ball was dead — to turn a series that began at Walnut Ridge’s 30 into a second-and-45. They punted. Independence also lost fumbles on consecutive series in the second half.
Meanwhile, Walnut Ridge’s offense was all business, scoring on its first possession of the second half to close the gap to 35-27 and, two series later, on a high-arcing pass from Toney that landed softly into Wheelwright’s hands for a 43-yard touchdown catch, the Scots took their first lead at 41-35.
“The rain didn’t bother me in terms of catching the ball,” said Wheelwright, a 6-foot-3 senior, said. “But it did make cutting difficult.”
Although the Scots used the muddle a few times in the second half, they mostly relied on grind-it-out football. Eighty-three of Toney’s 148 yards rushing came on nine second-half carries.
Mattox said the Scots’ seniors didn’t let their teammates get discouraged when they fell behind 29-7.
“We have good leadership this year, and they just took care of business,” he said. “We knew Independence had a great offense and that our defense was getting better every week. Something had to give, and in the second half it was their offense, not our D.”
IND -- Hill 1 run (Sow kick)
WR -- Toney 35 run (Condo kick)
IND -- Manning 8 run (pass failed)
IND -- Hill 1 run (Rambo run)
IND -- Rambo 30 run (Manning run)
WR -- Robinson 30 pass from Toney (Wheelright pass from Toney)
IND -- Manning 2 run
WR -- Wheelright 15 pass from Toney (pass failed)
WR -- Wheelwright 6 run (run failed)
WR -- Wheelright 6 run (run failed)
WR -- Wheelright 9 pass form Toney (Wheelright pass from Toney)
WR -- Wheelright 43 pass from Toney (kick failed)
IND -- Manning 2 run (run failed)
WR -- Toney 1 run (kick failed)