INDEPENDENCE - For Independence, the prep football season opener bore little resemblance to its winless 2016 campaign.
Even in defeat, a clear message was sent that there are brighter days ahead for the Mustangs.
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LONE TREE — If anyone questioned why Lone Tree made the move to 8-player football, that likely changed to why did the Lions wait so long after their debut.
The transition seemed almost flawless.
Lone Tree scored on its first seven chances, including Jovonte Squiers’ punt return for a touchdown, and rolled to a 63-22 victory over Central City Friday night at home.
The Lions forced a continuous clock just 35 seconds into the second quarter, building a 49-0 lead.
“Our guys have been looking forward to this game for a long time,” Lone Tree Coach Chad Shield said. “They came out and executed the game plan really efficiently and effectively.”
Lone Tree didn’t waste any time in the game or each drive. The longest was six plays, scoring on five drives of two plays or less. The Lions received two touchdowns and a 14-0 lead on two touches by Squiers.
After the Lone Tree defense thwarted a fake punt attempt and took over at the Central City 18, Squiers ran a sweep to the left and scored easily. Squiers followed that up with the punt return, following another 3-and-out by the Lone Tree defense.
His first return was called back by offsetting penalties. He hauled in the next one at the Lions’ 31, made a couple moves and was gone. The fast start was exactly what they needed.
“It really brought the energy to the team right off the bat,” Squiers said. “We knew we had to keep going and can’t stop. Each play was 0-0.”
Even when things looked bad, they turned out positive. Central City pinned Lone Tree at its own 1, Drake Hotz rushed for 16 yards, setting up another impressive run by Squiers, who took the handoff and cut across field from right to left and outran defenders for a 63-yard TD run.
“I saw a hole and went through it,” Squiers said. “I saw three guys and I was kind of worried. I looked to my left and saw one of my blockers and cut off that one. I’m like, ‘I’m off to the races here. I’ve got to go as hard as I can.’”
Squiers finished with four TDs, running an onside kickoff back 49 yards for a score with five seconds remaining in the game. Squiers had 81 rushing yards and 17 receiving in the game, amassing 130 all-purpose yards in the first quarter. He also had one of the four Lion interceptions.
“I think 8-man football is made for him,” Shield said. “Finding ways to get him the ball in open space will be a key for us all year because he will be able to do good things with the ball in his hands.”
The Lions were able to substitute freely in the first half. Shield said all 30 players who suited up gained experience on the field.
“I think that’s awesome,” Shield said. “They’ve been working hard. They gave us a good look this week in scouts and to reward those guys out here with some playing time is excellent.”
Drake Hotz led Lone Tree with 88 rushing yards, including 27- and 26-yard touchdown runs. He scored on the opening play of the second half to make it, 56-8. Five Lions scored rushing touchdowns.
Central City didn’t go down with a fight. The Wildcats tried to work themselves back in the game. Kyle Marsh got Central city on the board with a 75-yard fumble return for a score in the final minute of the first half. Braxton VanAlst hit Michael Walker for a conversion to make it 49-8 at the break. VanAlst also hit Brandon Rollinger and Cody Gray for scores of 17 and 46 in the fourth quarter. The last with 13 seconds left.