Independence (Tenn.) graduated its first class of seniors in 2007, and the newly-minted football program reached the state championship that same year, finishing 11-4. The Eagles’ success has continued and the school has posted two straight playoff appearances prior to this season. Independence will face Beech for the first time in program history on Friday. Beech is the defending 2012 Class 5A state champions after a 15-0 season, and also claimed the Class 5A crown in 2009.
Beech carries its 2-1 record to 3-0 Independence, where the Buccaneers are still rallying after losing Jalen Hurd for the season following a 42-39 Week 1 win over Station Camp. Hurd is a 6-foot-3, 220-pound running back and safety that is listed as the No. 1 recruit in Tennessee. The Tennessee Vol commitment still managed to finish with 177 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 21 carries, but after the win, he received news that he would miss the remainder of the year.
The absence of Hurd added a hurdle to the Buccaneers’ repeat campaign, but Dorian Carter has already proven in the early season to be the new leader. Carter rushed for a game-high 223 yards last week and ran for three touchdowns in Beech’s 40-36 win over Gallatin. On the season, Carter has tallied seven touchdowns. Quarterback Parker Henry is also contributing in the ground game and as a passing and rushing threat, has scampered in for two scores this season. The Buccaneers have 15 rushing touchdowns this season and will give Independence all it can handle on the ground.
Independence has a high-octane offense that has great success through the air. Quarterback Caleb Hollis is at command of the Eagles’ offense and has helped the unit outscore its first trio of opponents 133-27. Hollis completed just six passes in last week’s 56-7 win over Summit but his three senior receivers, Vic Wharton, RaShaan Gaulden and Deion Sims, turned the completions into an efficient four touchdowns with Wharton scoring twice. Hollis has looked sharp all season, completing 38 of 59 passes with eight touchdowns and just one interception.
In the backfield, sophomore runner Daniel Wright gained 99 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries, and the underclassman has four touchdowns on the season. Gaulden, Wharton and Finis Stribling IV are the top prospects to watch on the Eagles’ sideline. Gaulden is a Tennessee commit that plays safety and receiver, and at 6-foot-1, 180-pounds creates a difficult matchup for Beech. Wharton is also committed to the Volunteers and the playmaker added an explosive 70-yard punt return for a touchdown to his two receiving scores last week. Stribling IV is another SEC-commit, as the 3-star defensive back is committed to Missouri.