Ardrey Kell had the final surge in a game loaded with momentum changes, as the Knights rallied for a 43-30 nonconference victory Friday night over visiting Independence.
The Knights scored the game’s final 17 points, after Independence had scored three consecutive touchdowns and battled back from a 17-point deficit.
It gave Ardrey Kell its third victory in a row after an opening loss to Weddington, for the Knights’ best start to a season in five years.
Ardrey Kell seemed to be pulling away when it built a 26-9 lead late in the first half.
But the Patriots whittled away at the deficit and finally grabbed a 30-26 lead late in the third quarter on an 8-yard pass from Arnold Taylor to Trevor Bryan. It was Bryan’s second touchdown catch of the quarter.
With 2:05 left in the third period, Ardrey Kell went to work.
Cedric Gray, the Knights’ standout senior receiver, returned a kickoff 57 yards to the Independence 35. The Patriots’ defense forced a fourth down at the 34, but the big play of the drive — and perhaps of the game — was a fourth-down pass interference call that gave Ardrey Kell a first down at the Independence 19.
On the next play, Knights’ quarterback Jared Joseph connected with Gray for a touchdown. The conversion kick put Ardrey Kell back on top 33-30, and the Knights never trailed again.
A 49-yard pass from Joseph to Michael Hetzel with 8:51 left gave Ardrey Kell a 10-point lead, and the Knights completed their scoring with a 29-yard Jackson Price field goal in the closing minutes.
Records: Independence is 2-2; Ardrey Kell is 3-1.
Three who mattered
Cedric Gray (Ardrey Kell): Gray had six receptions for 124 yards and two touchdowns. His long kickoff return set up his second score.
Davion Nelson (Independence): The Patriots’ powerful junior running back had a big night, carrying 23 times for 209 yards and two touchdowns.
Jared Joseph (Ardrey Kell)): Joseph, the Knights’ quarterback, completed 18-of-31 passes for 280 yards and four touchdowns.
▪ Ardrey Kell had a pair of long kickoff returns. Josh Johnson took a kick 72 yards in the second quarter, setting up the Knights’ second touchdown. And Cedric Gray ran back a kick 57 yards in the third quarter. That return led to Ardrey Kell’s go-ahead touchdown.
▪ Independence quarterback Arnold Taylor had a strong effort. He completed 13-of-26 passes for 171 yards but had two throws picked off.
▪ One of Taylor’s interceptions came on a strange play. He was running toward the sideline and appeared to be throwing the ball away, but Ardrey Kell’s Isaiah Maxey managed to grab the throw along the sidelines.
▪ Ardrey Kell and Independence had played seven times previously, with Independence winning six of those, but it was the teams’ first meeting in seven years.
▪ Ardrey Kell was trying for its first 3-1 start to the season since 2014, when the Knights finished 10-4. Independence had a 3-1 start last year, then went 2-5 the rest of the way.
Both teams have byes next week, then open conference play Sept. 27. Independence hosts Harrisburg Hickory Ridge in a Southwestern 4A game, while Ardrey Kell hosts South Mecklenburg in a SoMeck 7 4A contest.
Steve Lyttle on Twitter: @slyttle
Independence 6 9 15 0 -- 30
Ardrey Kell 6 20 7 10 -- 43
AK — Michael Hetzel 9 pass from Jared Joseph (kick blocked)
I — Davion Nelson 45 run (kick failed)
I — FG Ryan Howe 31
AK — Henry Bowen 7 run (kick blocked)
AK — Cedric Gray 32 pass from Joseph (Jackson Price kick)
AK — Kaci Seegars 7 run (Price kick)
I — Nelson 7 run (run failed)
I — Trevor Bryan 7 pass from Arnold Taylor (T. Bryan run)
I — T. Bryan 8 pass from Taylor (Howe kick)
AK — Gray 19 pass from Joseph (Price kick)
AK — Hetzel 49 pass from Joseph (Price kick)
AK — FG Price 29