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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.
Independence nearly matched its entire offensive scoring output from last season in one game, but ultimately could not topple Class 2A No. 9 Dike-New Hartford, 40-27, in a non-district game Friday night at Lyle Leinbaugh Field.
“I thought we made some plays,” fourth-year Independence Coach Justin Putz said. “I thought we left some plays out there that we’re going to have to make when at times, we had a chance to get off the field. But I was really proud of the resiliency.”
A year after reaching the 2015 3A playoffs, Independence managed just 29 offensive points through nine games last season, all defeats.
It was much of the same through the first quarter and a half. Dike-New Hartford quarterback Cade Fuller recorded touchdown runs of 48 and two yards, while Wolverines linebacker Noah Epley returned a Logan Schmitt interception 51 yards for a third unanswered score that left Indee on the wrong end of a 21-0 deficit.
“It was still pretty positive, but a few of the guys were kind of down,” Schmitt said. “We’ve got some team leaders that stepped up and we were like, ‘We’ve got to get back in this.’"
Schmitt and the Independence offense did get back in the game by finding some offensive footing that resulted in three second-quarter scoring drives, highlighted by touchdown runs of 21 and 12 yards from senior fullback Noah Gall.
“We aren’t like last year,” Gall said. “We’re not the same old Independence. We’re coming back and we’re going to be tough. We’re going to come back. We’re not backing down.”
After Fuller burned the Mustangs’ defense for a third score from 28 yards away, Indee forced a fumble late in the half and capitalized with a 7-yard TD pass from Schmitt to Cyrus Butters that cut the deficit to 27-20 at halftime.
“You get down and you’re not catching a lot of breaks and you shoot yourself in the foot a little bit,” Putz said. “They got a little tougher and they started executing. They hung together. They just did a nice job of flat-out believing and not let things snowball.”
Dike-New Hartford kept the pressure on with a seven-play, 73-yard drive on the first possession of the second half. A 20-yard TD run by tailback Ryan Moore extended the Wolverines’ lead to 34-20.
“The nice part is we were able to battle back,” Dike-New Hartford Coach Don Betts said. “We’d get a lead, then let them in but we kept battling back again and I told the guys after the game, ‘You found a way to win and that is the most important thing.’
Independence scuffled in its four third-quarter possessions with a punt, a turnover on downs, a Schmitt fumble and his second interception.
The scoring drought invited another Fuller TD scamper, this time from 28 yards away that pushed the Dike-New Hartford lead to 40-20 on the first drive of the final frame. Fuller left the game early with cramping in the fourth quarter, but managed 185 yards rushing, 137 passing and four scores on the ground.
“We think that is going to be a strength for our team this year, to utilize the quarterback and run him some,” Betts said. “We really haven’t done a lot of that in the past.”
A 48-yard TD pass from Schmitt to senior Kenyon Hosch pulled Independence within 40-27 with just over seven minutes left in the game, but the Mustangs could pull no closer.
Schmitt finished the game with 174 yards rushing on 24 carries, and completed 11-of-31 passes for 216 yards.
“He’s just a tough kid,” Putz said. “You want to talk about resiliency? Logan Schmitt is resilient. He knows there are going to be good plays and there are going to be bad plays and it doesn’t faze him.”
Gall finished with 36 yards rushing and added a fumble recovery on defense. 6-foot-4 receiver Zach Snyder caught four passes for 91 yards for the Mustangs, while Butters snagged four for 60.
Ely Sohn caught three passes for 58 yards for the Wolverines, while Ben Freese added 66 yards over three receptions.
“We’re very young as they are,” Betts said. “There were a lot of mistakes made tonight, but mistakes are correctable. The kids played hard and that is the encouraging part.”
Dike-New Hartford (1-0) — a 2A state semifinalist last season — hosts Denver next Friday while Independence (0-1) visits fourth-ranked West Delaware.
“If I have to get you excited to play West Delaware, then you’re not from Independence,” Putz said.
Class 2A No. 9 Dike-New Hartford 40, Class 3A Independence 27
Dike-New Hartford 7-20-7-7—40
DNH — Cade Fuller 48 run (Isaac Jorgensen kick)
DNH — Cade Fuller 2 run (Isaac Jorgensen kick)
DNH — Noah Epley 51 interception return (Isaac Jorgensen kick)
IND — Noah Gall 21 run (Logan Schmitt run)
DNH — Cade Fuller 28 run (kick failed)
IND — Noah Gall 12 run (run failed)
IND — Cyrus Butters 7 pass from Logan Schmitt (pass failed)
DNH — Ryan Moore 20 run (Isaac Jorgensen kick)
DNH — Cade Fuller 19 run (Isaac Jorgensen kick)
IND — Kenyon Hosch 48 pass from Logan Schmitt (Sean Geertsema kick)
RUSHING — Dike-New Hartford: Ben Freese 2-3, Ryan Moore 8-29, Cade Fuller 17-185, Cade Bennett 9-29, Drew Sonnenberg 4-13; Independence: Cyrus Butters 5-1, Logan Schmitt 24-174, Noah Gall 4-36.
PASSING — Dike-New Hartford: Cade Fuller 10-17-1-137, Drew Sonnenberg 2-3-0-25; Independence: Logan Schmitt 11-31-2-216.
RECEIVING — Dike-New Hartford: Ely Sohn 3-58, Ben Freese 3-66, Ryan Moore 3-19, Tim Koop 3-19; Independence: Zach Snyder 4-91, Cyrus Butters 4-60, Seth House 2-17, Kenyon Hosch 1-48.
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