By Dave Morrison

The Battle of 76 (Liberty vs. Independence) is not without its outstanding running backs, led by the area’s leading rusher in Atticus Goodson of Independence and Ryan Simms of Liberty.

Goodson numbers have been like a video game, 870 yards rushing, 16 touchdowns, 14.7 yards per carry.

Simms has 421 yards, six touchdowns and 10.3 yards per carry.

Liberty is coming off a defense-dominated 33-0 win over then No. 5 Clay and the Raiders are 4-0, ranked No. 5 this week.

Independence lost to A No. 7 Petersburg last week 50-24 in a game that was arranged Thursday. The Patriots are 3-1, No. 12 in the Class AA ratings.

Ironically, the two could meet in the playoffs if they started this week.

Both teams can play defense.

You know the running games.

The most underrated aspect of each team is the passing game.

When Mark Workman started coordinating the offense at Liberty over a decade ago he made his chief goal to be a balanced offense.

In 2014 and 2015 a gunslinging QB named Hunter Wright brought the talent to give all he needed in the pass department, throwing for over 2,000 his senior year.

Isaac Atkins May not reach those astronomical numbers but make no mistake, he once again gives the Raiders a QB capable of reaching the numbers Workman, now the head coach, wants to achieve.

Atkins has been efficient and he has put the ball in the end zone during Liberty’s 4-0 start with eight touchdown passes, which leads an area that has some good quarterback play through four weeks.

Atkins is 20-38 passing for 421 yards. He’s averaging 21.05 yards per completion.

And he gives an element Wright couldn’t, the ability to run.

“Many people didn’t know, probably still don’t, that Hunter had a meniscus problem his senior year so that took him out of the fun game,” Workman said. “Isaac didn’t come in as a prototypical looking quarterback at 195-200 pounds. But when he turns it up and he gets going he can run you over and he also has the ability to make people miss.”

Atkins has rushed for 296 yards and five touchdowns.

Then there is the passing.

“We always knew he’d be able to sling it around,” Workman said. “He’s been a full-time starter somewhere on offense for four years. He played some quarterback as a sophomore. He played a good bit at quarterback as a junior. This is his first year as full-time starter but he understands what every position is supposed to do and he understands what we are trying to do.”

He also has an able stable of of receiver, including ballhawking Braden Howell (13 interceptions over the last season plus) who has eight catches for for 242 yards and five scores, Logan Doddrill (3-107-1) and Shawn Pennington (5-73-1). 

Independence coach John H. Lilly hasn’t been satisfied with the Patriots passing game since his arrival in Coal City.

“We’re trying to make out passing game better because it wasn;t very good last year,” Lilly said. “So (opponents) just can’t load the box up on offense.”

First year starter Isaiah Duncan, one of three seniors, has been outstanding, going 16 of 28 for 538 yards and six touchdowns.

“We’ve been working together for three years very closely and in the beginning we had some issues with his throwing motion,” Lilly said. “He’s done nothing but worked hard. People don’t understand how hard he worked in the offseason When the Covid-19 hit, grabbing receivers and going up to Stocco and running pass routes on his own without any coaches being around. I’m real proud of him.”

“Whenever I get my opportunity I take it,” Duncan said. “When you have one of the best running backs in the state behind you, I mean, you take every opportunity you get when you throw the ball. Whenever it comes to just handing the ball to Atticus, yeah that’s easy. When Im reading the defense and calling plays I gotta let the machine drive its self.”

He has the ability to check down at the line of scrimmage. One example was an audible at the line to a run up the middle that went for a touchdown.

Duncan has a stable of receivers himself with Cyrus Goodson (6-190-3), Judah Price (4-192-2) and Trey Bowers (3-112-1)