Any coach will tell you, an ugly win is far better than a pretty loss.
It may have not been its best overall performance of the season, but in the Battle of ‘76 rivalry game, Independence will take the win and move on to the next challenge.
Fighting off self-inflicted damage and some big plays from county rival Liberty, the Patriots pulled away for a 37-12 win.
“We haven’t had a fumble almost all year and we had five tonight,” Independence head coach John H. Lilly said. “That just took all of the momentum away from us. Give credit to a much improved Liberty team. They have turned that program around and they are going to be very tough for the next couple of years. Head coach (Mark) Workman and (assistant) coach (Mark) Montgomery have done a great job. They were really tough tonight. I thought they played defense against us as good as anybody has so far this year.”
The story of the game was told up front in the trenches. The much bigger and veteran line play of the Patriots kept the younger and smaller Raiders frustrated all night.
“They hit some big plays on us up the middle,” Workman explained. “Our kids played tough, but Independence is just big and strong. They controlled the game up front on both sides of the ball.”
Independence pounded Liberty all night behind 255 yards rushing from Cody Fleenor and 247 yards from Atticus Goodson. Goodson had been putting up record numbers all season, but with Liberty shading toward their star back, the Patriots hurt the Raiders up the gut with Fleenor.
“(Liberty) was loading the box wherever Atticus went,” Lilly said. “Give (assistant coach Kevin) Grogg and (assistant) coach (Joe) Dean a lot of credit. They saw that we had to use Atticus some as a decoy. (Liberty) did what it had to do to beat us. We are just tickled to get this win and pleased to be 6-2. It’s all fun now.”
Fleenor, who was named the Most Valuable Player for the Battle of ‘76, scored three times on runs of 45, 51 and 2 yards, but also broke loose in the decisive final quarter on a 74-yard jaunt.
“The main thing that made it work tonight was the (offensive) line, the guys in the back blocking and Atticus (Goodson) taking the whole defense out,” Fleenor said. “He has been our offense all year. I couldn’t have done anything without them.”
Liberty, on the other hand, could muster little on the ground.
“We just couldn’t really get anything going on offense,” Workman said. “The defense was out there for the biggest part of the time. They played with their backs against the wall all night. Hats off to Independence. They played a great game.”
Although the game looked lopsided in the end, year two of the Battle of ‘76 was anybody’s game going into the fourth quarter.
Independence controlled the ball most of the first half and kept Liberty at bay with two interceptions and forced four punts. However, after scoring on the opening drive, Independence could not build on the lead due to a turnover on downs in the red zone an two lost fumbles.
“We moved the ball and got inside the red zone four times, but didn’t score,” Lilly said. “We just had to calm them down. They were getting a little antsy when we started turning the ball over. We didn’t tell them a whole lot, just to calm down and come out and play. It worked for us.”
Fleenor’s second score gave Indy a 13-0 lead early in the the third quarter before Liberty answered back with 43-yard score from Isaac Adkins to Jared Baldwin.
Liberty forced a punt on the next series and had a chance for the go ahead score, but could not capitalize.
Goodson gave the Patriots a cushion with a 23-yard touchdown run, but Liberty refused to go away. Ian Sloan came in for Isaacs who was injured as the fourth quarter started and promptly hit Braden Howell for a 90-yard catch and run to again put Liberty within one score with just over eight minutes to play.
Forced to gamble, Liberty brought the house trying to stop Indy on third down. Goodson made them pay when he broke free on a 58-yard scoring run.
Independence travels to Nicholas County next Friday, while Liberty travels to James Monroe.
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