SMYRNA — To call the Independence defense opportunistic Friday night would be an understatement.
The Eagles kept taking Smyrna’s best punch but came up with one big play after another in a 21-7 triumph.
Independence (4-0), ranked No. 1 in Class 5A, forced seven Smyrna turnovers to hold a team averaging 53 points to just the lone touchdown.
“It was all effort,” said Independence defensive back Cole Huner. “We didn’t play perfect on defense, but we were able to make big plays when we needed.”
Despite losing senior tailback Casey Perkins in the first quarter to a knee injury, Smyrna (3-1), had little problem moving the ball. The Bulldogs, ranked fifth in Class 6A, gained 413 yards.
Independence collected just 161 total yards and six first downs, but the big plays made the difference in the Eagles winning their 19th straight game.
“We just played with a lot of heart,” said Independence running back/defensive back Landon Guidry. “We wanted to prove we can compete with anybody.”
Guidry came up huge for Independence, which graduated a lot of key players from last year’s unbeaten state championship squad.
He blocked a first-quarter punt that gave the Eagles possession at the Smyrna 10 and scored the game’s first TD on a 5-yard run. He also had a first-half interception.
Smyrna quarterback John Turner, who entered the game with just five incomplete passes total in three games, was 20-of-34 for 243 yards and his first three interceptions of the season.
“We had too many turnovers,” said Smyrna coach Matt Williams. “I’m proud of our defense. They did a good job against a very good offense.”
Smyrna failed to score on its first drive after getting inside the Independence 4. In the second half the Bulldogs got inside the Eagle 20 before a fumble was returned 85 yards for a touchdown by Montray Steele. Later in the second half the Bulldogs fumbled again inside the Independence 15.
The Eagles then put the game away with an interception as Smyrna had driven inside the Independence 15 again.
Smyrna also had a 39-yard touchdown pass called back by a holding penalty on a drive that ended on a turnover.
“You have to have your offense’s back, and vice versa,” said Huner.
Perkins will be re-evaluated and is considered week-to-week, Williams said.
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