THE COLONY – In a wild shootout between two of the top offenses in the area, it was a defensive play that ultimately won the game for the Independence football team Friday night on the road against The Colony.
With the Knights up 44-37 in the second overtime, The Colony senior quarterback Mikey Harrington II scrambled for his life while trying to make a play in the end zone on second down.
Harrington heaved up a pass in the direction of senior Keith Miller III but instead launched the ball into double coverage and into the hands of Independence junior Brayden West for the game-clinching interception.
“Both teams were just making plays back and forth, and it had to come down to one turnover there to win it,” said Kyle Story, Independence head coach. “That was such a huge pick by West and I was so glad to see him come down with it. That’s the biggest play he’s made for us this year.”
As crazy as the game itself was, the overtime periods were even more bizarre with both sides scoring on just four plays each in the first overtime.
Independence marched down on four straight running plays capped off by a 1-yard score by junior quarterback Braylon Braxton, while The Colony needed a miraculous catch by Miller in triple coverage to corral a 34-yard bomb all the way to the 1-yard line.
But it was what occurred after both teams scored their respective touchdowns in the first overtime that made this showdown even more ludicrous.
After the Cougars got on the board first, the Knights succeeded in blocking the extra point attempt, only for The Colony to turn around and do the exact same thing following the Braxton touchdown to force another round of free football.
“You can’t write a script like that,” said Rudy Rangel, The Colony head coach. “I thought when we blocked that last one we were going to get in there and get it done, but it just wasn’t our night tonight.”
The go-ahead touchdown in the final moments for Independence came on a 25-yard touchdown strike to junior wide receiver Zhighlil McMillan, who had a monster performance in the triumph with much of the attention on teammate and senior wide receiver Khi’Yon Wafer. McMillan ended his night with a team-high 116 yards receiving and a game-high three touchdowns, all of which came in the second half or overtime.
“He made some huge plays for us tonight,” Story said. “We got back in the ballgame in the second half and Zhighlil was a big part of that with the catches he had.”
Despite Independence getting on the board first with a 6-yard touchdown snag by junior wide receiver Elijah Arroyo two plays after senior linebacker Sam Quiroz sacked and stripped Harrington for a 50-yard fumble return, the first half was dominated by the Cougars.
The Colony responded right back with a 56-yard touchdown strike just a few minutes later from Harrington to Purdue commit Christian Gonzalez, and then again on its next possession with a 38-yard score to Miller to take its first lead of the contest at 14-7.
Before the first half came to a close, the Cougars tacked on another touchdown on a 3-yard scamper by Harrington, as they possessed all of the momentum heading to the locker rooms with a 21-7 advantage.
However, Story’s crew was not going to go down without a fight to begin the second half, as the Knights compiled a nine-play drive resulting in McMillan’s first of three touchdown grabs from 12 yards out.
“We had a chance to get away from them at the end of the first half, and they just stayed close enough,” Rangel said. “If we could have gotten a stop there to begin the second half we would have been in great shape. But it was game on then after that.”
The Independence defense, which struggled to contain The Colony’s cast of superstars in the first two quarters, then forced three punts, a turnover on downs and held the Cougars to a field goal on their next five possessions.
All the while, the Knights not only chipped away at the deficit but also regained the lead with 2:28 to go on a 41-yard catch-and-run by an unsung hero in junior Jackson Rhodes for his only catch.
But The Colony’s offense, which had mustered just three points in the second half, had a chance to tie things up starting from its own 10-yard line.
Independence even appeared to have sealed the Cougars’ fate with just over a minute left when senior defensive end Nick Carpin hounded Harrington for his fourth sack of the ballgame to force a daunting third down.
“[Carpin] is a player,” Story said. “He just gives you 100 percent every snap and is a great kid with talent.”
The combination of Miller and Myles Price, who combined for 19 catches, 214 yards and two scores, made play after play to keep their squad alive down the stretch — the most important coming on another third down when Miller snagged a jump ball near the goal line only to be tackled a yard short of the pylon.
Price, a Texas Tech commit, punched it in one play later with just eight seconds remaining in the fourth quarter and off to overtime the Cougars and Knights went as madness ensued.
The thrilling comeback now puts the Knights (4-2) in a terrific position to not only clinch a playoff spot next week, but they can also seal the No. 2 seed in District 5-5A Division I with a victory over Centennial.
Meanwhile, The Colony (4-2) must now hope for an Independence loss and defeat Little Elm next week to secure the No. 2 spot and host a first-round postseason game.