Independence High School coach Maurice Douglas read his team the riot act at halftime during its Oct. 27 game at Walnut Ridge.
Not only did the 76ers commit a slew of silly penalties in falling behind by 12 points, but two teammates had an ugly scuffle on the sideline.
“I told you at halftime that I couldn’t be more embarrassed by the way you played,” Douglas said in an impassioned postgame speech, “but right now, I couldn’t more proud. You’re the City League-South (Division) champion, and you’ve earned it!”
Aided by tremendous play from his offensive line, running back Demontae Taylor dominated the second half in helping the 76ers score the final 22 points for a 44-34 victory. Darante Ervin also made a handful of tough inside runs.
“We just had to play our game,” said Taylor, who finished with 201 yards rushing on 23 carries and scored four touchdowns. He returned a punt 73 yards for a touchdown, made a huge 44-yard catch in the fourth quarter, and thwarted a late drive with a spectacular interception near the goal line.
“We came out sloppy in all phases, but when we get it going, it’s hard to stop us.”
Two-way lineman Chad Douglas said Independence circled the wagons when trailing 34-22 midway through the third quarter.
“We’ve been through adversity several times this year, and we thrive on that,” he said. “We believe strongly in our system. It just took us some time to settle in.”
Taylor’s over-the-shoulder 44-yard sideline catch set up his 17-yard TD run early in the fourth quarter to put Independence in front, 36-34.
After a strong defensive stand, Independence put together a 12-play, 75-yard scoring drive that chewed nearly six minutes off the clock. Taylor capped the march with a 10-yard TD run, then added the important two-point conversion run for a 10-point lead.
On Walnut Ridge’s final drive, Taylor stepped in front of Calvin Dawson to steal a sure touchdown, tipped the ball in the air and intercepted it.
“Obviously, Demontae was huge, but I really think the play of our offensive line was the story of our comeback,” Maurice Douglas said. “We’ve always taken pride in running the football, but it was a thing of beauty making that long drive when they knew what was coming at them.”
Technically, Independence (9-1 overall, 6-1 in the City-South) won the league title by a half game over Walnut Ridge (8-1, 5-1), which had a game canceled. The Scots were trying to finish unbeaten for the first time in their 56-year history. Both teams qualified for the playoffs.
Quarterback Isaiah Murphy completed 10 of 14 passes for 267 yards and four touchdowns to pace Walnut Ridge. Two went to Julius Woods, one to Justin Vance and the other to Qian Magwood.
“They got the better of us up front,” Walnut Ridge coach Byron Mattox said. “Their running back had a fantastic game, and he had help from blocking. We couldn’t corral him. We just didn’t play well in the second half. Hopefully, this will help us refocus for the playoffs.”
==========Team 1 2 3 4 Final INDEPENDENCE 8 8 14 14 44 WALNUT RIDGE
6 14 14 0 34