THOMPSON’S STATION — Centennial couldn’t have asked for a better start to Friday’s Class 5A semifinal at Williamson County rival Independence.
The Cougars opened the game by recovering a surprise onside kick before senior Peyton Pisacane connected on a 26-yard field goal, spotting Centennial an early advantage.
“We knew they were going to come out and give us everything they had,” Independence quarterback Andrew Bunch said. “In the playoffs, that’s what you have to do, and they did a really good job of capitalizing on that onside kick.”
Centennial (12-2), which lost to unbeaten Independence on Aug. 28, was simply delaying the inevitable, though, falling 56-16 to Independence.
“That was just some more adversity we had to overcome, and I’m just glad we were able to keep our sights straight, trek on and get the win,” Bunch said.
Independence (14-0), which will square off with Sevier County in Friday’s Class 5A championship game in Cookeville, proceeded to outscore Centennial 35-6 in the first half, carrying a 26-point lead into the break.
“They got momentum, and you can’t give Independence momentum,” Centennial senior Tyrel Dodson said. “We talked about just staying together as a team, staying with C.C.C. — courage, commitment and character. That’s what we tried to do, but hats off to Independence for kicking our tails.”
Dodson, a Texas A&M commitment, finished with just 3 yards on two carries, but the Class 5A Mr. Football Lineman of the Year did haul in a 61-yard third-quarter touchdown reception for the Cougars’ only score of the second half.
“I was just trying to lead my team and be a playmaker for my team,” Dodson said.
Led by the lethal combination of Bunch and Class 5A Mr. Football Back of the Year finalist Nate Johnson, who connected nine times for 230 yards and five touchdowns, Independence coasted to a similarly lopsided second half.
“He’s quick, man,” Bunch said of Johnson, who also tallied a 7-yard rushing touchdown. “It’s a lot of running routes and timing. We do it all summer to get it real crisp and we can light it up sometimes.”
Bunch threw for 376 yards on 19-of-28 passing, and he also ran for 32 yards and a score.
“I’m really excited; I’ve never played in a state championship, and I’m ready to go,” Bunch said. “Centennial is an awesome team, and there are a lot of guys over there who deserve to play for a championship, but we’re definitely excited to get to Cookeville.”
Reach Michael Murphy at 615-478-2481 and on Twitter @Murph_TNsports.