No. 15 Hickory Ridge gets big defensive stop, holds off Independence in season opener

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Matt Kline
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It might not have been the prettiest game played, but given the fact that Hickory Ridge and Independence had waited about seven months to play the “2020” football season, it was just great to be out on the field.

And even though Hickory Ridge failed to score an offensive point, the defense held Independence to 112 total yards and the Bulls scored on a blocked punt that was returned for a score in a 7-6 victory over the Patriots in a game that was moved to West Cabarrus High School so the teams could play on field turf.

Playing mostly in a cold rain, neither team could really move the ball in the first half as Hickory Ridge had 86 total yards while Independence had only 1 total yard. Hickory Ridge had the best scoring chance of the half as it pounced on a bad punt snap to gain possession at the Indy 3, but Aaron Carey was hit as he reached the goal line on the next play and officials ruled he fumbled just prior to reaching the goal line. Independence recovered in the end zone for a touchback.

Early in the second half, Hickory Ridge found the end zone when Donovan Stone blocked an Independence punt and Alex Smith Jr. scooped up the loose ball and went 20 yards for a score and a 7-0 Hickory Ridge lead.

Independence had done almost nothing on offense but mounted a drive late in the third quarter, going 69 yards in seven plays and finding the end zone when Arnold Taylor threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to Terence Hicks on the second play of the fourth quarter. The Patriots went for two but their rush attempt came up short, and Hickory Ridge led 7-6.

Independence moved the ball again on its next possession to the Bulls’ 15, but a penalty pushed it back and a 35-yard field-goal attempt came up short. Hickory Ridge gained two first downs in their final possession and in the final minute decided to punt on a fourth down near midfield. Riley Stubbs pinned Independence at its own 1, and the Patriots couldn’t get past their own 20 before time ran out.

“It was good to finally be out there,” Hickory Ridge coach Jupiter Wilson said. “Not probably the best situation with the weather, but it was just good to be out there with the kids.”

Three who mattered

Aaron Carey (Hickory Ridge): Gained 110 yards on 21 carries and gained two first downs in the final minutes to help seal the game.

Arnold Taylor (Independence): Numbers won’t tell the story as Taylor threw for 55 yards and score. He was injured on the blocked punt that led to Hickory Ridge’s touchdown and needed help getting off the field. Clearly limping and wearing a knee brace, Taylor came back in the game and nearly led Indy to a comeback win.

Defenses: Weather clearly played a factor, but the offenses combined for one touchdown and had few legitimate scoring chances.

Worth mentioning

As in any opener, there were mistakes. The teams combined for 16 penalties (14 of those were 5-yard penalties) and lost five fumbles.

The movement of the game to West Cabarrus likely kept the game from being canceled. Coaches felt playing on a regular grass field might not have been possible.

What’s next

Independence will play it home opener next Friday against East Meck, and Hickory Ridge will play at Garinger.

Game summary

Independence 0 0 0 6 — 6

Hickory Ridge 0 0 7 0 — 7

HR: Alex Smith Jr 20 blocked punt return (Riley Stubbs kick)

I: Terence Hicks 9 pass from Arnold Taylor (run failed)