Ashburn, Va. — The Independence High School football has had anything but a normal initiation into varsity competition. In 2019, Independence opened its doors for the first time, welcoming a class of freshmen, sophomores, and juniors but no seniors. In 2020, the Tigers varsity football season was pushed to the spring of 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Then just four months later, Independence opened its 2021 campaign with a postponed Week 1 along with a reclassification from VHSL Class 3 to VHSL Class 5.
And every step along the way, the Tigers were up for the challenge.
In their 2021 season opener, a week after they expected, the Tigers cruised past Class 5 Potomac District foe Riverside High School, 49-21, on September 2 in front of a home crowd in Ashburn.
“The environment was spectacular. It was great to get out here in front of our home crowd and do what we do,” Riverside senior athlete Josh Hand said. “We came in and dominated the game. That was the goal upfront, and Coach Windows was happy with us that we did that in the first game.”
Independence opened their season with a 12-play, 76-yard drive that ended with a touchdown run by senior quarterback Brian Courtney on a 4th-and-1 from the 12 yard line.
Riverside muffed the ensuing kickoff which was subsequently recovered by the Tigers near midfield. Less than 80 seconds later, Courtney hit Hand with a 21-yard touchdown pass as Independence extended its lead to 14-0.
“Football is all about momentum, so if you get it early and you get rolling, it’s tough to stop that,” Independence head coach RJ Windows said. “We got off to a quick start and that was the key. I try not to concern myself with scores, but I really look at the execution, and I think we executed well tonight.”
The Tigers’ offense looked comfortable moving the football, rushing for 227 yards on 37 carries and completing 5 passes for another 134 yards. Courtney connected with Hand for another passing touchdown midway through the second quarter then another with sophomore receiver Gabriel Coulthurst late in the first half before hanging up his cleats for the evening.
After the second pitch-and-catch between Courtney and Hand, the Independence defense forced a three-and-out, before Hand returned the resulting punt 42 yards for a touchdown, scoring his third and final touchdown of the night.
“You have to give it your all every play, you can’t take a play off, and nobody did,” Hand said. “We kept calling the right plays and scoring points which happens when everyone is giving their all.”
In the second half, the Tigers handed the reins over to sophomore running backs Clay Ash and Miguel Keller, who combined for 158 rushing yards on the evening. Ash also scored a pair of rushing touchdowns in the third quarter.
“[Ash and Keller] are tough kids, hard runners, and they needed this work,” Windows said. “We’re going to be rolling into some war daddies later in the year, so they needed that work, but we’ll be up for the challenge.”
After falling into a 29-0 deficit, Riverside did not throw in the towel as junior quarterback Will Lind tossed a 69-yard touchdown pass to junior receiver Gabe Karstaedt late in the first half, another 69-yard touchdown pass to Karstaedt early in the fourth quarter, then finally one more touchdown pass to junior receiver Adam Hufnagel late in the game. Lind threw for more than 200 yards on just 6 completions, however, the Rams never got their ground game going and couldn’t keep up with the explosive Independence offense.
After an already strange start to their 2021 season, the Tigers are looking forward to the challenge reclassifying to VHSL 5A presents and are already setting their sights on adding hardware to their trophy case.
“We’re going to do everything in our power to win a state championship,” Hand said. “We’re working every single day to get better to reach that goal.”
|1Q||4:24||Independence||Brian Courtney 12-yard touchdown run (Nicholas Backman PAT)||7-0|
|1Q||3:06||Independence||Brian Courtney to Josh Hand 21-yard touchdown pass (Nicholas Backman PAT)||14-0|
|2Q||7:41||Independence||Brian Courtney to Josh Hand 28-yard touchdown pass (2pt good)||22-0|
|2Q||6:24||Independence||Josh Hand 42-yard punt return touchdown (Nicholas Backman PAT)||29-0|
|2Q||4:46||Riverside||Will Lind to Gabe Karstaedt 69-yard touchdown pass (Josh Thomas PAT)||29-7|
|2Q||1:07||Independence||Brian Courtney to Gabriel Coulthurst 24-yard touchdown pass (Nicholas Backman PAT)||36-7|
|3Q||5:21||Independence||Clay Ash 17-yard touchdown run (Nicholas Backman PAT)||43-7|
|3Q||0:39||Independence||Clay Ash 21-yard touchdown run (PAT missed)||49-7|
|4Q||8:37||Riverside||Will Lind to Gabe Karstaedt 69-yard touchdown pass (Josh Thomas PAT)||49-14|
|4Q||1:34||Riverside||Will Lind to Adam Hufnagel 26-yard touchdown pass (Josh Thomas PAT)||49-21|