COOKEVILLE – Andrew Bunch and his Independence teammates have been making a statement all season long to be considered one of the best teams in the state.
The Eagles added an exclamation point to that message in Friday’s Class 5A BlueCross Bowl, beating Sevier County 49-14 at Tennessee Tech’s Tucker Stadium to polish off a perfect 15-0 season and capture the first football title in the school’s 11-year history.
“It’s been an unbelievable year,” Independence coach Scott Blade said. “This team will stand out at this school for a long time.”
Bunch finished with offensive MVP honors, passing for 313 yards and five touchdowns on 20-of-29 passing, adding 59 yards and a score on 15 carries.
He finished with 3,395 passing yards on the season despite missing more than four games with an injury.
”My goodness, he’s had a great year,” Blade said. “I can’t say enough about him. He played terrific tonight.”
Independence jumped out to an early lead by scoring the first four touchdowns.
Bunch got the Eagles started with a 5-yard touchdown run less than two minutes into the game, and, minutes later, senior hit Mr. Football finalist Nate Johnson for a 12-yard score.
Daniel Wright added a 1-yard touchdown run before Bunch connected with Seth Huner to take a four-score lead.
“We were just playing for each other,” Bunch said. “When you play for each other you don’t want to let down the man beside you, and I think that’s really kept us pressing forward.”
It looked as if Independence would take a 28-0 lead into the locker room, but senior quarterback and Vanderbilt commitment Deuce Wallace hit Devante Matthews from 6 yards out to get the Smoky Bears on the board, 28-7, at the break.
Bunch and the Eagles didn’t wait long to get those points back, though, as the senior standout found Wright for another score, this time from 10 yards out.
Wallace answered back almost immediately, finding Hunter Miniard for a 17-yard score, capping an 80-yard drive just 1:43 later.
Wallace set a state championship record for attempts in a game, connecting on 27 of 43 attempts for 259 yards and two touchdowns.
“We knew if we locked down his receivers he wouldn’t really have anyone to throw to,” Independence junior linebacker Hunter Dupree said. “That was kind of our game plan.”
Dupree captured defensive MVP honors with six tackles and an interception.
Bunch later marched the Eagles 80 yards in 1:50, capping the drive with a 25-yard touchdown once again to Wright, who finished with 71 yards and two touchdowns on four catches. Wright also rushed for 96 yards and a score.
Then, after the Eagles’ defense recovered its second fumble, Bunch threw his fifth touchdown pass, hitting Johnson for a 22-yard score. That started a running clock for the entire fourth quarter (TSSAA mercy rule), with Independence taking a 35-point lead.
“They’re probably the most athletic team we’ve faced this year, and we knew it was going to be that way,” Sevier County coach Tony Linginfelter said. “We just had trouble adjusting to their speed.”
Reach Sam Brown at 615-259-8232 and on Twitter @SamBrownTN.