Casey McGhee booted a 22-yard field goal as time expired to lead Independence to a 30-28 win at rival Cuyahoga Heights on Friday in a game broadcast by CVC TV.
With the win, the Blue Devils have now won two straight over Heights following last year’s 35-0 victory that snapped Cuyahoga Heights’ streak of six consecutive wins in the series.
“It seems like every year we play them something would always go wrong but the kids overcame the adversity and made the plays,” said Independence coach Rick Adams. “That was huge.”
Ryan Krajewski’s three-yard touchdown run with 11:03 left in the game gave Heights a 28-27 advantage.
The Blue Devils moved the ball to the Heights 25 on the ensuing possession but failed to convert on a 4th-and-5 and turned the ball over on downs.
“I wasn’t thinking a field goal even though Casey could hit that,” Adams said. “We called a pass play and it went incomplete, so we turned it over on downs.”
Heights quickly moved into Independence territory but a botched snap ended up in the hands of Ashton Lerz and the Blue Devils took over possession at their own 44 with just over two minutes left to play.
Michael Tommer completed a 23-yard pass to Rory Corrigan on first down then Tommer ran around the right end for a gain of 11 yards on the next play. Back-to-back Tommer runs set the Blue Devils up at the Heights eight and Rory Corrigan ran to the five before Adams called a time out with just three seconds remaining in the game.
“We just said we were going to win it on the field goal,” Adams said. “We weren’t going to give them any time on the clock to do anything else. We let the clock run down and called time out to let Casey kick it.”
Playing for a game-winning field goal came with considerable risk after the Blue Devils had an extra point blocked earlier in the game, but Adams was confident his special teams unit had corrected its previous mistake.
“We made an adjustment and everyone did their job and Casey hit it,” Adams said. “It was a great feeling.”
McGhee lined up on the right hash mark and drilled the ball through the uprights for the win.
“Getting the game-winner has been a dream of mine and for it to be against them makes it extra special,” McGhee said. “We haven’t won there for a long time. I’m so proud of our team and how we played. It was a great game and I can’t wait for the rest of the season.”
The blocked extra point weighed heavily on McGhee as he set up for the game-winner, but he stuck to his routine and delivered for his teammates.
“I was extremely excited to get a chance for a game-winner,” he said. “I knew I had to come through for my team after how much work they put in. The team played an amazing game and never gave up. I stuck to my field goal routine and took a deep breath once I got set. I had faith in my blockers and especially (long snapper) Rory (Corrigan) and (holder) Kyle (Zygmunt) to get the ball there for me to kick.”
Cuyahoga Heights struck first when Luke Torgerson threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Francis Connors with 3:34 left in the first quarter. Owen Schuckert’s extra points gave Heights a 7-0 lead.
Tommer responded with the first of his two touchdown passes to Zygmunt. The first one covered 49 yards and tied the game at 7-7 with 1:57 remaining in the opening quarter.
Corrigan gave the Blue Devils a 14-7 lead when he rumbled in from four yards out with 11:29 left in the second quarter.
Ryan Krajewski evened the score with a one-yard run late in the second quarter and Heights regained the lead on a Torgerson one-yard run with 4:44 left in the third. The extra point sailed wide left, leaving Heights up 20-14.
Tommer then connected with Zygmunt again, this time on a 26-yard touchdown toss Zygmunt hauled in over his left shoulder in the corner of the end zone with 2:56 left to play in the quarter. McGhee’s extra point gave the Blue Devils a 21-14 lead.
Krajewski scored his second touchdown of the game, this one a three-yarder, to put Heights back on top, 28-21, with 11:03 remaining in the game.
It didn’t take long for the Blue Devils to get back into the game as Tommer tucked the ball and raced 57 yards for a touchdown to pull Independence to within 28-27 with 10:42 remaining. The extra point was blocked, leaving Heights with the ball and the lead.
Tommer finished the game 11-of-17 passing for 184 yards and the two touchdown throws. He also ran for 140 yards and a touchdown.
“It felt great to win on their field as a senior,” Tommer said. “It’s been decades since we’ve won over there, so doing it as a senior was something I will never forget.”
Tommer missed Independence’s previous two games, but it didn’t take much for him to find his groove in his first game back.
“Missing the past two games we’ve had was really hard,” he said. “It’s never fun to watch from the sidelines, but while I was gone our team really came together. It only took a day or two after being back to get back in sync with my receivers. After that, we got to work and knew what we needed to do to win. The game was a battle from start to finish and wasn’t an easy win in any sense, but our guys did their job and we pulled through.”
Zygmunt hauled in three passes for 95 yards and the two scores and Corrigan was a bull with the ball in his hands as he fought for the tough yards in the trenches.
“Kyle made a fantastic catch in the corner of the end zone. That was a highlight of the night,” Adams said. “Rory ran hard and he did a really good job breaking some tackles and getting some good yards for us. Our special teams and defense, really everyone, played well. It was a team effort.