They might not have been the tournament hosts, but the Independence Eagles felt right at home for Saturday’s Ravenwood 7-on-7 Invitational.
Not a single one of Independence’s nine opponents managed to slow down the squad’s powerful passing attack, comprised of strong-armed, rising senior quarterback Andrew Bunch and a stockpile of talented skill players.
“This is definitely for us,” Eagles wide receiver and Purdue commitment Nate Johnson said. “This kind of game right here — 7-on-7 — this is all us.”
For most of the 22 teams in attendance — especially the ones that employ a run-heavy, regular-season offense — participating in 7-on-7 tournaments makes for at least some additional offensive scheming.
For the tournament champion Eagles, who captured wins over Blackman, Montgomery Bell Academy and Riverdale en route to the title, these events are simply business as usual.
“What they’re doing right now is what they do all season long,” Ravenwood coach Will Hester said. “Some people have to change what they do and kind of rig something up for tournaments like this, but this is their offense.”
“It’s a first-class tournament, and it’s a great way to run our offense,” said Independence coach Scott Blade, whose squad knocked off Marshall County 35-28 in the championship. “For the most part, what you see is what you get.”
Last fall, the Eagles carved up opposing secondaries during their up-and-down, 6-5 campaign, totaling nearly 3,000 yards through the air. Johnson, a third-team All-Midstate selection, and fellow receiver Seth Huner both concluded the year with over 60 catches for more than 1,000 yards receiving.
“We have a lot of weapons on offense, and it makes it easy for me,” Bunch said. “All I have to do is give them the ball.”
That appreciation goes both ways.
“It’s so great for the wide receivers; you feel comfortable knowing you have a great quarterback,” said Johnson, the tournament MVP. “Andrew, man, you can pretty much guarantee it’s going to be a good ball every time, and that’s great knowing that as a receiver.”
Hester, who led one of the state’s stingiest defenses a season ago (11.8 points per game), is a good source on the subject. His Class 6A runner-up Raptors surrendered a season-high 320 yards through the air to Bunch and company in last year’s District 11-AAA regular-season matchup with the Eagles.
“Andrew Bunch is one of the best quarterbacks around,” Hester said of the 6-foot-1, 190-pounder, who has received scholarship offers from Eastern Michigan and Austin Peay. “Nate Johnson is one of the most highly-recruited receivers in the area, and they’re very, very good at what they do.”
All the key players — Bunch, Johnson and Huner — are returning this fall, and while Blade was quick to point out that 7-on-7 football isn’t “real football,” Saturday’s impressive showing should only instill confidence in the senior-laden squad.
“You don’t have to worry about anything but completing the pass,” Bunch said. “To be able to go out for a whole day and do things like that, it’s huge just to sharpen up your passing game going into the season.”
Said Johnson: “It shows us what we can do against other people’s secondary, and how if we can get a couple of seconds for the quarterback to get the ball off, we’re going to be successful.”
That’s a big “if,” but if Independence’s offensive front can routinely provide four seconds for Bunch to operate in the pocket — the time allowed to release the ball in 7-on-7s before the defense is credited with a sack — the Eagles shouldn’t have any problem scoring points this fall.
“They’ll get what they need to do done,” Bunch said of his offensive line. “I’m not worried about them at all. They’re a bunch of big strong guys, and I’m not afraid of them getting me killed.”