James Wood rallies to top Independence

ASHBURN — Trailing by four points with a little more than five minutes to go against a school looking for the first football victory in program history, James Wood was in a rough spot at Independence on Friday.
But thanks to some heroics from William Crowder, Sam Adkins and their mates, the Colonels were able to escape with a thrilling 42-32 victory.
Crowder bolted 54 yards to give James Wood the lead for good. Adkins then picked off his second pass of the game and his return set up his fourth touchdown of the second half as the Colonels (4-1) rallied to their fourth consecutive win. Independence, which led 17-6 at halftime, dropped to 0-6.
"We were saying the whole week that they are a good team," said Adkins, who rushed for 168 of his 203 yards in the second half. "Just because of their record, it doesn't mean nothing. It was hard coming from the first half, but we kept our heads up and stepped it up in the second half."
Thanks to three TDs from Adkins in the third quarter, the Colonels appeared to have the contest under control with a 28-17 lead heading into the final quarter. But with the strong wind at their backs, the Tigers rallied.
Brian Courtney tossed his second 39-yard TD pass to Josh Hand and a two-point conversion pass to cut the Colonels' lead to 28-25. And after a James Wood three-and-out and a short punt against the wind, Courtney completed two key passes (one on fourth down) on a 36-yard drive that he capped with a one-yard run to make it 32-28 with 5:26 left.
After the kickoff, the Colonels needed to drive 80 yards toward the end of the field where they had not previously scored all night.
Adkins got the drive started with a 15-yard carry. And after an incomplete pass, quarterback Carson Hoberg ran for 11 yards, but was shaken up on the play.
Backup Drew Reese came into the game and he needed just one play to cap the march. He handed off to Crowder on a jet sweep around the left side and the senior showed why he is one of the fastest players in the state. After clearing the line of scrimmage, Crowder found a seam between blocks from receivers Jaden Ashby and Lavaughan Freeman and was gone done the left sidelines for a 54-jaunt that stunned the raucous crowd.
"I can't my thank my offensive line enough," Crowder said. "It was a frustrating first half, but I knew when my time was coming it would come. ... When I saw that seam my eyes opened and I was like, 'Oh my, here is gold.'"
"Will, he can run almost like nobody else like we've had over the years," Colonels coach Ryan Morgan said. "The receivers did an excellent job blocking. Honestly, the best blocking we had all night was on that play. They knew we needed a big play to kind of close them out."
Independence got the ball back at its 21 with 4:35 to go and got one first down before Courtney made a big mistake. Under heavy pressure from the Colonels defensive line, Courtney heaved a ball into the air that was picked off by Adkins. The senior returned it 40 yards to the Tigers 5. On second down from the 2, Adkins plowed into the end zone to make it 42-32 with 2:37 left.
"He moved from linebacker last year to safety and he's getting more comfortable at that position," Morgan said of Adkins. "... When the ball is in the air, he's one of our guys who is willing to go get it."
After the Wood score, Courtney would get one first down to the Independence 49, but Kevin Brown sacked him for a nine-yard loss and Luke Esparza picked him off on the next play.
It was welcome sigh of relief for the Colonels, who have now won four straight for the first time since 2015. 
"It's very satisfying because we knew we had to score," Crowder said of the play in the final minutes. "We believed in each other. We didn't get angry at anybody. We just said, 'Guys, we've got to score.' When we get the ball moving, we get satisfied. We've just got to keep it up. ... It was a great win tonight."
"We told the kids all week that they weren't a football team that was going to go away," Morgan said. "We pointed that were within 3, 10, 11 points. For a first-year program, that's pretty impressive. Hat's off to them. They did a great job coaching and those kids played really hard. I'm glad we came out on top."
Certainly the situation didn't look good at the half. The Colonels turned the ball over on each of their first two possessions. And after Ashby's 19-yard TD run gave them a 6-3 lead, Independence dominated the second quarter with Hand scoring on a three-yard run and catching a 39-yard TD pass from Courtney (19 of 36 for 296 yards and three interceptions).
The Colonels' passing game, which had been prolific in recent weeks, struggled. Hoberg finished 9 of 21 for 97 yards.
"The wind tonight kind of hampered us a little bit and they did a good job covering our receivers, too," Morgan said.
The second half didn't start well after Independence recovered a pooched kickoff, but Joey Vitola recovered a fumble two plays later and Adkins kicked it into gear as he scored on three consecutive carries.
His 28-yard run and a 24-yard run by Ashby helped set up his 3-yard TD. On his next carry he bolted 53 yards up the middle for score and followed that up with a 69-yard dash down the left sideline.
Like Crowder, Adkins praised the offensive line.
"I couldn't do it without the blocks," he said. "The holes were giant right there. The first one I took it up the middle and cut off of Bradley's [Scions] block and took it right up the sidelines. The second one was great blocking again.
"Our offense exploded in the second half. Great blocking led to great plays and long runs."
Morgan said that Adkins' big plays actually weren't in the game plan.
"We ran a play that we hadn't practiced all week," Morgan said. "We ran that a couple of times just because of a couple of things they had adjusted and were doing to us. We pulled a couple of things out of our hats.
"It's a little bit of a risk when you do that," he added. "That's also why you put some different stuff in throughout the year."
Defensively, the Colonels survived having several interesting combinations on the field. Top linemen Clayton Jones and Austin Schmitt were both injured on the same play in the first half as they tried to sack Courtney.
"This year, this was the game we had to resort the most moving kids in and out," Morgan said. "... We have a good mix of guys who are able and ready to go."
The Colonels are back in Class 4 Northwestern District action next Friday as they host Culpeper County at 7 p.m.
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