SMYRNA -- Behind the right arm and legs of senior quarterback Ethan Cash, the Independence Eagles defeated the Smyrna Bulldogs 28-10 in the opening round of the Class 6A state football playoffs.
Cash completed 19 of 38 passes for 297 and three touchdowns and was the leading rusher for the Eagles with 60 yards on 10 carries and a pair of scores. He accounted for 357 of Independence’s 400 yards of total offense, while Jaxon Campbell was his leading receiver with 10 grabs for 187 yards.
“He’s a good quarterback, real good,” Independence coach Scott Blade said. “He made some great throws.”
Independence scored the game’s first 14 points. On its opening drive, Cash connected with Jaxon Campbell for a 29-yard score. And with two minutes remaining in the first, Cash scored the first of his two rushing scores from five yards out.
Smyrna answered back early in the second quarter. Running back Terrian Johnson pounded the ball in from three yards out to get the Bulldogs within seven. The Johnson score was set up by a 33-yard pass from Landon Miller to Jordan Johnson.
But Independence was able to expand its lead on the ensuing drive and essentially end the game on an extraordinary play. Cash was flushed out of the pocket, threw a ball that went through the hands of two different Bulldog defenders and found its way into the arms of Campbell, who Campbell went untouched for his second touchdown of the night. The 61 play made it 21-7.
“The results obviously turned out in our favor, but ultimately it was not a good decision. It should have been a pick,” Blade said. “We’ve got to learn from those, when to put air into that or when to just eat it on a busted route.”
Smyrna’s Noah Shalz kicked a 34-yard field goal with 3:19 left to play in the second quarter to pull the Bulldogs within 11 and make it a 21-10 game.
Smyrna got the ball to start the second half, but Miller fumbled three consecutive snaps. Miller was able to fall on the ball on first and second down, but the third time ended up in the arms of Independence’s Mikel Hartfield.
Despite getting the ball at Smyrna’s 10-yard line, the Eagles were unable to punch the ball into the end zone. The Bulldog defense was able to keep Independence from expanding its lead and give the offense a chance to close the two-score gap. In fact, the Bulldog defense was able to keep Independence from scoring for the entire third quarter.
“Defensively I’m proud of our kids,” Smyrna coach Matt Williams said. “We made some adjustments after the first quarter and it helped us a lot. That quarterback’s a good player. He’s one of the better ones you’ll see.”
But Cash and the Independence offense was able to wear down the Bulldog defense and score 13 points in the fourth quarter and advance to the second round of the playoffs.
“Hats off to Smyrna for fighting, but we’re glad to get out with a win,” Blade said.