Price is right: Led by tailback’s record-setting effort, Independence handles Herbert Hoover 42-7 for first state championship

WHEELING, W.Va. — Throughout the 2022 season, Independence followed a similar recipe for success to remain unbeaten: Production from tailback Judah Price behind a stellar offensive line and exceptional defensive play that was sometimes overshadowed by the Patriots’ ability to score in bunches.

That formula worked again Friday in the Class AA final, and as a result, Independence wrapped up an unbeaten season to secure its first state championship in football.

The second-seeded Patriots got a new Super Six record 376 rushing yards from Price combined with another strong defensive showing to race past No. 9 Herbert Hoover for a 42-7 victory at Wheeling Island Stadium.

“We’ve been saying all year he’s special,” IHS head coach John Lilly said. “A lot of people kept saying, ‘Well he’s special against chump teams.’ Well he did all this against Bluefield, Herbert Hoover and Fairmont Senior. He’s a special young man. I also have to tip my hat to an offensive line that blocked for a Kennedy Award winner last year [Atticus Goodson] and now they blocked for Judah, too. That offensive line is special, too.”

On the Patriots’ first play from scrimmage in the third quarter, Price displayed his surplus of speed and quality vision on a 94-yard rushing touchdown that also gave the state’s all-time single-season scoring leader the longest play in Super Six history.

“Hopefully there’s not a flag and score the touchdown,” Price said of his thought during the scamper that covered nearly the entire length of the field.

After the two-point attempt failed, Independence (13-0) was left with a 20-0 lead 3:34 into the second half.

That score stood until the fourth, before Price raced 12 yards for a TD on the second play of the frame. It followed his 37-yard run, and combined with Price crossing the goal line on the two-point try, enabled the Patriots to up their advantage to 28-0 with 11:24 remaining.

“Nobody’s been successful [slowing him down]. He’s a good player and the best player in Double-A,” Huskies’ head coach Joey Fields said.

Hoover (10-3) answered with a 24-yard touchdown pass from Dane Hatfield to Andrew Rollyson to prevent the Patriots from recording their seventh shutout this season, but it was too little, too late for a team that had its 10-game win streak stopped after an 0-2 start to the season.

“That’s a good football team that deserves the championship,” Fields said. “I’m happy for coach Lilly and his staff. I’m so proud of this team and community. You could see Elk River pride tonight and they fought with us until the end. I’m proud of how our team responded and fought and we had opportunities to win the game at times.”

Quarterback Trey Bowers scored his second touchdown and Independence’s fifth of the contest on a 41-yard run, before Price ran in the two-point try to make it 36-7 with 6:21 to play.

When Independence got the ball back for what proved to be its final possession, Price scored his fourth touchdown of the contest and 51st of the season on a 6-yard run that capped the scoring.

It was also during that series that Price broke Wheeling Central’s Gino Bianconi’s Super Six record of 355 rushing yards from the 2011 Class A final.

Earlier in the game, Price broke the Class AA Super Six rushing mark previously held by Bridgeport’s Dylan Tonkery, who amassed 314 yards in the 2014 title game.

“That is insane,” Price said. “People were asking me if I had any more records to break and I had no clue I was going to do anything like that. That’s crazy.”

Although Independence’s opening drive ended with a turnover on downs in the red zone, the Patriots forced a three-and-out to immediately get the ball back at the Huskies’ 35-yard line.

Five plays later, Price reached the end zone from 3 yards, and he did the same on the two-point try to give IHS an 8-0 lead at the 3:06 mark of the opening quarter.

Hatfield’s 20-yard pass to Jacob Burns allowed Hoover to convert on fourth-and-17 on its ensuing sequence, and the Huskies continued to march as they worked their way inside the Patriots’ 10.

But on second-and-goal from the 7, Price continued to show he’s more than a running back and ripped the ball from Hoover tailback Randy Hughart, while also recovering the fumble to give Independence the ball at its 5.

“We missed on some opportunities offensively and of course Judah is going to make plays on the other side of the ball as well,” Fields said.

Price’s 43-yard run and Bowers’ 27-yard pass to Cyrus Goodson keyed a 95-yard drive on the ensuing series, which ended with Bowers plunging into the end zone on a 1-yard quarterback sneak. The two-point play was unsuccessful, leaving the Patriots with a 14-0 lead 5:13 before halftime.

On Hoover’s next possession, Hatfield was stopped at the line of scrimmage on fourth-and-1 from the Patriots’ 36, which kept the score 14-0 at the intermission.

“Our defense has been awesome and it should be. We had nine starters back and they did a good job,” Lilly said. “They’ve been that way all year. We haven’t hardly given up touchdowns all year. They’re just hard-working, good kids.”

The IHS defense was equally dominant in both halves, allowing 70 yards over the first two quarters and 67 over the final two.

The Huskies managed only 31 rushing yards on 27 attempts.

Hatfield had a solid passing performance in defeat as he hit on 14-of-22 throws for 106 yards. 

“We know he’s a great quarterback and he’ll be back up here again. The kid is that good,” Lilly said. “But tonight was our night and the kids had a great game plan and they stuck to it. I’m really proud of them.”

Price carried 32 times in his record-setting effort, while Bowers had a strong effort as well with 15 rushes for 118 yards. Bowers also completed 6-of-10 passes for 54 yards.

“Everyone blocked for me and it’s so surreal really how well everyone did today, how we executed and how we prepared all week,” Price said.

Price and Hatfield were named Most Outstanding Player from their respective teams.

One year after falling short against Fairmont Senior in its first Super Six appearance, the Patriots produced the ending they desired to finish off an unbeaten campaign that saw them largely unchallenged in every game with the exception of a 20-12 victory in the postseason opener against Bluefield.

“It’s one thing to say you’re going to make it back and it’s another thing to make it back,” Lilly said. “We dodged those minefields with a lot of seniors staying focused that long. This is a very special bunch.”

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