Lafayette QB Luke Hanson (Photo: Thomas Matzke/recruit757)
New Blood vs. Blue Blood: Independence visits Lafayette
by Jim McGrath, recruit757 and recruitNoVA
Independence (5-1) vs. Lafayette (7-0) at Wanner Stadium, Williamsburg, Saturday 2:00 PM
This is a matchup featuring the old guard against the upstart. Lafayette is accustomed to advancing deep into the state playoffs every year, and coach Andy Linn has won well over 100 games in his 13-year tenure with the Rams, including a 60-game winning streak in their Bay Rivers District.
However, a first-round playoff loss to I. C. Norcom last year, coupled with three straight seasons of missing the state final four have combined to produce a chip on the Rams’ collective shoulders. Last week’s 29-18 defeat of previously undefeated Phoebus in the Region 3A final silenced the few doubters that remained.
On the other side of the field will be the Tigers of Independence. The second-year team from Ashburn lost its first eight games during the inaugural season of 2019, but squeaked into the playoffs by winning the final two in a depleted region.
This year, Indy left no doubt about their playoff worthiness, and they enter Wanner Stadium fresh off a 27-17 win over a 7-0 Goochland squad in the Region 3B championship.
Looking at Lafayette
Running is the name of the game for Linn’s team. They take advantage of opposing defenses with an offensive line that includes tackles Lawrence Tyler (6-4 270) and Andy Anderson (6-1 260), junior guards Bryce Copeland (6-0 230) and Mike Julien (5-11 260), and senior center Tommy Gardner (6-3 320). The Fab Five dutifully protect quarterback Luke Hanson (2022 6-2 180), Miguel Reel (136 rushing yards against Phoebus), and Sam Boyer (2022 6-2 210) in the backfield. Boyer left last week’s game with a leg injury and is questionable for this contest.
Against Phoebus, the Rams were able to jump to an early 29-6 halftime lead and finish the job with 18 rushes in their final 19 plays.
University of Virginia signee Mike Green (2021 WR/DE 6-4 215) is Hanson’s primary target in the passing game, with Donald Gatling (2022 WR 6-3 205) contributing mightily.
Linebackers Gatling, Boyer, Bryce Cupp (2021 6-2 200), and Aidan Byron (2021 5-11 200), key the Lafayette defense.
Indy Brings Speed to the Offense
Like the Rams, Independence relies on the strength of its ability to move the football. They come into Saturday’s game averaging just over 41 points per game, and show aptitude in both the running and passing games.
Brian Courtney is the main reason for the two-way success. The quarterback (2022 QB 6-3 225) recently committed to play his college football with Florida State, where he is being considered to play tight end and possibly some defense. It is a testament to his overall ability.
For the season, the junior has rushed for over 1,000 yards, 15 scores, and nine yards per carry. Between rushing and passing, Courtney has accounted for 24 touchdowns.
Senior Elijah Tidwell (5-11 200) is the Tigers’ second-leading rusher with over 500 yards and seven touchdowns. Overall, Indy averages almost 300 yards on the ground per game, with a whopping eight-yard per carry average.
When Courtney goes to the air, junior Josh Hand (6-0 185) is the premier pass catcher with over a dozen catches, a 23-yard average per reception, and a 1:2 touchdown-to-catch ratio.
– Jim McGrath