Coming off a winning season in Class 6A and returning a bulk of his team’s starters, it’s easy to see why optimism was high for Independence football coach Scott Blade entering the 2015 season.
Even Blade couldn’t have imagined just how nearly flawless the season went.
The Eagles dominated their way to a 15-0 record and Class 5A state championship, blowing past Sevier County 49-14 in the BlueCross Bowl.
Independence’s success has earned its players, and coach, numerous postseason honors. Blade was recently named the Tennessee Titans state Coach of the Year. He is also The Tennessean coach of the year for the 2015 season.
“You never quite expect that,” said Blade, on the team’s perfect season following a 6-5 mark in 2014. “We knew we had a good group of seniors coming back. We had a lot of leadership in the locker room. That was the biggest positive (entering the season). The character of the kids is what stood out the most.”
Blade and Co. handled early season adversity with ease. Standout senior quarterback Andrew Bunch went down with an elbow injury against Centennial during the team’s second game. Bunch went on to miss half of that game and the next four contests, but still managed to pass for more than 3,400 yards and 41 touchdowns.
However, with backup QB Adam Swayze at the helm, the team still managed to cruise through that stretch of games, which included tough contests against Lincoln County, Smyrna and Stewarts Creek.
“I think that actually strengthened us,” Blade said. “When Andrew went down, it was a wake-up call to every other aspect of our team to step up. Swayze did a great job stepping up, and our defense took it upon their shoulders to step up. They really did.”
After sweeping through the regular season seemingly unscathed, Independence didn’t let its foot off the gas during the playoffs when the competition stiffened.
The Eagles, who dropped down from 6A to 5A after reclassification, outscored their playoff opponents 220-63, with the closest game being a 28-20 quarterfinal victory over defending 5A runner-up Hillsboro.
The state title was Blade’s second in 5A, with the first coming in 2008 at Hillsboro. He is now 102-29 overall (including stops with the Burros and Oak Ridge) and 30-9 in his three seasons at Independence.
“(Class 5A) was really strong,” said Blade, who has a career 24-8 record in the playoffs. “There were a lot of teams that were good in 6A that dropped down — us, Centennial, Sevier County, Hendersonville and Oak Ridge. And you had other traditionally strong teams like Hillsboro, Henry County, Ooltewah and Rhea County. It was really a complete classification.
“During our playoff run we had to play some really good teams. Our first opponent was Cane Ridge, and they were 8-2 and a very good team.”
Blade still has a few more postseason loose ends to tie up, such as banquets, college recruiting, etc. But he hopes to take a little time to enjoy the success of 2015 before turning his attention to next season.
“We’ll take a couple weeks off and celebrate (the past season),” Blade said. “We’re excited about turning the page. We have some young players who have been in the program, and they’re ready to go.”
Scott Blade’s career
2006 – Hillsboro – 14-1
2007 – Hillsboro – 10-2
2008 – Hillsboro – 13-2*
2009 – Oak Ridge – 7-4
2010 – Oak Ridge – 9-5
2011 – Oak Ridge – 9-4
2012 – Oak Ridge – 10-2
2013 – Independence – 9-4
2014 – Independence – 6-5
2015 – Independence – 15-0*
* – Won state title