Independence ran its winning streak to 77 games in 2004, which is a national record for public schools, while winning their fifth consecutive State title.
The Patriots last lost on September 1, 2000 to the Crest Chargers 34-31. Since that defeat the Patriots have been dominating on both sides of the ball, averaging 48 points per game while allowing only 10.5 points per game.
Sure there have been some close calls during the streak. In the 2003 Western finals the Patriots slipped by the Raiders of Richmond County 20-18 when Richmond missed a field goal in the final seconds of the game. The 2002 season saw the Patriots defeat Scotland County 20-7 in the second round of the playoffs. In 2001, the Providence Panthers lost 29-19 in a regular season contest to the Patriots. Good teams find ways to win.
Seventy-seven and counting is how the Patriots enter the 2005 season.
They have to replace 17 starters and over 30 seniors who never lost a game. In addition, they had to replace head coach Bill Geiler and several key assistants. With all the deflections will they be able to keep the streak going?
"Of course [we're going to keep it going]," said offensive guard Pierre Andrews. "Even though we don't have the talent that we did last year, we still have things to make up for it. I feel the games aren't going to be blowouts like they were last year, but we're still going to come out on top. We just have to play together and get in the weight room and lift harder than anybody in the still."
No worries as Tom Knotts returns to the Independence sideline. After spending a year as quarterback coach at his alma mater, Duke, he returns to lead the Patriots. Coach Knotts brings with him a career record of 228-55, 8 state championship appearances, and five state titles.
The good news is Coach Knotts knows his players. The bad news is the Patriots return only five starters from last season so finding replacements for the 17 departed starters is job one.
Taking over at quarterback will be Charlotte Olympic transfer Darryl McFadden. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound junior has the athletic ability and arm strength to follow in the foot steps of All-Americans Chris Leak and Joe Cox. What he needs now is game experience.
Cameron Henegan, who rushed for 973 yards and 15 touchdowns in a mostly reserve role, returns to lead the run game. He has good speed and excellent vision which should allow him to easily step in the starter role.
At wide receiver, North Carolina commit Hakeem Nicks gets his chance to start after averaging 22 yards-per-catch in 2004 at tight end. RaDon Ingram is a speedster, who caught 40 passes for 634 yards and ten touchdowns in 2004.
"This group is young but talented," said receiver coach Steve Shipp.
Anchoring the offensive line will be two-time All-State guard Pierre Andrews, whose only weakness is C.C. Riders false teeth. Pierre is a Scout.com two-star recruit with interest coming from Clemson, LSU, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and Virginia Tech.
Defensively, the Patriots return three starters and will expect them to provide the leadership for the defense. Darryl Smith returns at defensive end, Robert Graham at linebacker and Devon Smith at safety.
Mr. Dependable, Brad Barnhouse returns to man the kicking duties.
Coach Knotts is optimistic, "I like our potential but I see things we have to improve on."
77 and Counting… Will this be the year the streak comes to an end? Stay Tuned.