MINT HILL Maybe this isn’t your Independence High football team of the late ’90s and early 2000s, with the gaudy winning streak and seven straight state championships.
But the Patriots (7-3, 4-1) showed Friday night they’ve still got big-game capability, winning a 21-14 thriller at Rocky River and turning the Southwestern 4A title chase into a four-team scramble that will get sorted out next weekend.
Quarterback Kelvin Hopkins scored the game-winning touchdown on a 10-yard run with 3:39 to play, and the Independence defense held off a last-second threat by the Ravens (8-2, 4-1), who entered the game needing a win to wrap up the regular-season championship.
Independence hosts Butler and Rocky River plays Porter Ridge on Friday in a pair of battles of one-loss teams.
“We hate that we let our destiny slip out of our hands and that we’ve got to depend on somebody else’s help,” Rocky River coach Jason Fowler said. “But it is what it is, and we’ll try to bounce back. We’d like to go a little farther than we did last year.”
The Ravens still can win the conference outright with a win over Porter Ridge and a Butler victory over Independence.
The Patriots kept themselves in the mix with this gritty road win, never trailing after getting the first touchdown of the game on an 11-yard run by running back Isaiah Robinson on the last play of the first quarter. That finished off a 77-yard drive and was as smooth as Independence looked all night. Robinson ended the night with 113 yards on 21 carries.
“The tradition and the history are important to us at Independence, but nobody’s going to give anything to us because of that,” Patriots coach Joe Evans said. “Our players played their hearts out. But I’ll be surprised if we don’t shoot ourselves in the foot on the bus going back tonight. We had to overcome our own mistakes.”
Hopkins threw three interceptions, and the Patriots also missed a fourth-quarter field-goal attempt that could have given them the lead sooner.
That early touchdown held up for a 7-0 Independence halftime lead as Rocky River’s Jonathon Pfeiffer missed a 35-yard field-goal attempt on the last play of the first half.
But the Ravens came back to tie the game midway through the third quarter on quarterback Naiil Ramadan’s 1-yard scoring run at the end of a short drive set up by the first of two interceptions by Jaire Alexander.
Independence regained the lead five plays after Deion Washington returned the kickoff 56 yards to the Rocky River 41. A.J. Peal got the score on an 8-yard run.
But the Ravens struck right back with a big kickoff return. Deron Davis fielded it and lateraled to Alexander, who raced 76 yards for the game-tying score with 2:18 left in the third quarter.
The Patriots drove 64 yards for the game-winning score by Hopkins, then had to hang on as Rocky River reached the Patriots’ 10 in the final minute. But the drive ended when Ramadan’s fourth-down pass into the end zone fell incomplete with 18 seconds left.
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