Big plays lead Independence past Cardinal

Independence Football

Independence returned a kickoff and a fumble for touchdowns in a 28-14 win over visiting Cardinal on Friday.

With the win, Independence improved to 5-2 overall and 3-1 in the Chagrin Valley Conference Valley Division while Cardinal dropped to 2-5, 1-3.

“Cardinal is tough,” said Independence coach Rick Adams. “They’re physical and big. I thought it was going to be a close game. They played well.”

The Huskies took a 6-0 lead on Matt Carney’s nine-yard touchdown run but that lead was short-lived as Kyle Zygmunt returned the ensuing kickoff 71 yards for a touchdown and a 7-6 Blue Devils lead.

“We needed a jumpstart because they were just dominating the time of possession,” Adams said of Zygmunt’s kickoff return for a score. “We ran 11 total plays in the first half, so to go up 15-6 at halftime on 11 plays, that says a lot about the defense bending but not breaking and making big plays when needed it. Kyle’s returns was a shot in the arm for us.”

Braden Sears then returned a fumble 68 yards and caught the two-point conversion from Robert Artrip to increase Independence’s lead to 15-6.

With the offense struggling to find its rhythm, the Blue Devils turned to Artrip at quarterback to start the second half.

That move paid off as he connected with Zygmunt on a 19-yard scoring pass to push the Independence lead to 21-6.

Artrip added a 26-yard scoring run in the fourth quarter to make it 28-6.

“We had Michael Tommer started the game,” Adams said. “He didn’t do a bad job, we just weren’t getting the ball back on offense so we didn’t get anything going. In the second half, we went with Robert at QB. We had a turnover on the second play of the third quarter, a bad exchange, but the defense stepped up and we got the ball back. Robert got going and did a great job with that.”

Cardinal closed out the scoring with a five-yard pass from Carney to Casey Horner, who also ran in the two-point conversion.

Cardinal outgained Independence, 286-171, but three turnovers and Independence’s big plays doomed the Huskies.

“Coach John Shirilla is our defensive coordinator and he did a great job at halftime making some adjustments,” Adams said. “They were beating us on the edge in the first half and we adjusted and took that away. We forced them to pass and once we got them in that position our defense was really putting the pressure on their quarterback. We did a really good job on coverage.”

Artrip rushed for 89 yards and touchdown for the Blue Devils while Zygmunt hauled in four passes for 56 yards and Brian Vollman caused two fumbles, including the one Sears returned for a touchdown. Jack Brocco picked off a pass for the Blue Devils.

Carney threw for 97 yards and a touchdown for the Huskies. Brice Hogue rushed for 64 yards on 10 carries and Trey Shirkey added 59 yards on 21 rushes.

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The creator and publisher of, Hare has covered high school sports in Northeast Ohio since 1997. He began as a correspondent for the Lake County News Herald, where he contributed until 2011, primarily covering high school football and wrestling. In 1999, Hare began writing for, a member of the network of high school and college sports web sites. He focuses on covering Notre Dame football recruiting. was created in 2004 and was a member of the network until 2012. The site's original purpose was to cover Ohio high school football and recruiting news but since has grown to cover all sports and to provide sports information services to high school athletic programs and individual teams. Hare attended Willoughby South High School through the middle of his senior year, then graduated from Berkshire High School in Burton in 1986. He played football, wrestled and was an all-Geauga county baseball player (1986). He lives in Chardon with his wife Paulette and their children.