The parking lot was packed and the home side of the stadium was practically standing room only Thursday night as fans flocked to first-year Independence High School's beautiful campus in Brambleton to watch the Tigers' first varsity football game in school history.
Despite a 53-42 loss to the Skyline Hawks from Front Royal, the Independence Tigers put on an impressive display. Sophomore quarterback Brian Courtney had a monster game for the Tigers, rushing for more than 200 yards and five touchdowns, in addition to a touchdown pass.
“It was pretty good. The line did a good job. If we didn’t have a couple of those mistakes, we’re right in that game," Courtney said. "In the first half, we came out a little sloppy but we picked it up at the end."
Skyline drove the field and scored on its opening drive with a touchdown pass from Blake Appleton to Marion Haley. Independence’s first drive ended in an interception by Skyline's Logan Maiatico that was returned to the red zone.
A reverse play to Hayden Gray brought the ball to the 1-yard line before running back Darion Santucci punched it in to make it 14-0. The Hawks added to their lead with a screen play from Appleton to Santucci for 19 yards.
Trailing 20-0, there was one big positive for Independence's defense. Arthur Cedeno recorded the first sack in program history, bringing down Appleton at the 2-yard line.
Courtney began putting his stamp on the game in the second quarter. It started with a scramble for the initial first down in Independence history. Courtney kept moving the ball with his feet and soon found his way into the end zone to put the Tigers on the board. It was the beginning of sheer craziness for an inaugural football game.
Skyline answered with Maiatico's touchdown catch before the Tigers responded with a 68-yard run from Courtney to trim the deficit to 27-14. Griffin Patterson's touchdown closed out the first-half scoring and extended Skyline's lead to 20.
“At halftime, we talked about how at that point we didn’t want to worry about what the score was,” Independence head coach RJ Windows said. "We wanted to be the aggressor and the kids responded pretty well."
"Brian Courtney led them offensively, Josh Hand made some big plays, the line did a really good job, we made some big stops on defense ...," Windows continued. "The kids really fought hard to the end of this game and gave ourselves a chance to win."
Skyline's advantage grew to 46-20 after three quarters before Independence made a strong fourth-quarter charge in front of its home fans.
After the teams traded touchdowns to open the fourth, Courtney connected with Hand for a 75-yard touchdown completion. On the Tigers' next drive, Courtney broke loose for a 69-yard scramble that set up his fifth touchdown run of the night.
Independence closed the final margin to 53-42 before ultimately running out of time. “We were fighting towards the end," Courtney said. "We were down a pretty good amount in the first half but our fans were behind us and we rallied."
The Tigers travel to South Riding in Week 2 for their first road game Friday night against the Freedom Eagles.
-More photos by Jeff Scudder