Independence closed out the 2023 season with a 31-0 win over host Trinty at Cuyahoga Heights High School on Saturday.
With the win, the Blue Devils recorded their fourth straight win after starting the injury-plagued season 0-6.
“What I told the kids when we broke for the last time after the game was it would have been really easy to just say, ‘Hey, the heck with the rest of the season, and we’re just going to focus on winter sports or whatever,’” said Independence coach Rick Adams. “It was a tough message every week. We kept on telling the kids to stay strong and be positive and things are going to start turning. The kids bought into that part, which was really important. They stayed in it as a team and stayed together to finish strong.”
Independence began the season with a major stress on its depth chart after losing starting quarterback Dom Narduzzi to a hand injury prior to Week 1. An injury to the backup quarterback, Andrew Stamp, forced Adams to insert wide receiver Rocco Ressler under center.
Narduzzi returned in Week 5 and it took a couple of weeks for the Blue Devils to find their groove.
Once they did, they rattled off four straight wins and outscored their opponents, 123-13.
“Defensively, one of the touchdowns we gave up was against the JVs,” Adams said. “There are some what-ifs. What if we started out like this or what if we didn’t have the injuries?”
Narduzzi opened the scoring on Saturday with a one-yard touchdown run with 2:33 left in the first quarter. He then threw a 59-yard touchdown pass to Ressler and Jack Korinek’s extra point pushed Independence’s lead to 13-0 with 8:09 left in the first half.
Ressler then picked off a pass at the Trinity 25 and returned it to the eight, where Korinek booted the first of two field goals.
Narduzzi added a four-yard touchdown pass to Cy Jolliffe with 1:43 left in the half that pushed the Blue Devil lead to 22-0 at the break.
Joliffe’s return to the lineup provided a morale boost for the Blue Devils after Joliffe was carted off the field at Harvey on Sept. 15. Joliffe played 10 snaps on defense last week but returned to his full-time role on both sides of the ball against the Trojans.
“That was nice,” Adams said. “It was nice having him come back after the shot that he took, and that was a huge lift for us.”
Joliffe added a 39-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter.
“It feels amazing to get back out and there and make a big difference in this game,” Jolliffe said. “This was personal to me after last year’s heartbreaking loss.”
Korinek closed out the scoring with a 44-yard field in the fourth quarter.
“On the play before, when our guy got tackled, I was doing the math really quick in my head,” Adams said. “It was 44 or 45 yards and we’ve tried those in practice, and he makes some and misses some. This was his last hurrah, so I said let’s give him a shot.”
While the season didn’t go the way the seniors hoped it would, the resiliency of the team is something Jolliffe won’t forget.
“Seeing how our team responded to the start of the season was special,” he said. “Some teams would just give up and call it quits there but our team was hungry to win and win some more. It was amazing to be a part of this team and see how everyone just wanted to keep winning after our first win.”