COAL CITY – As quarterback of the Independence football team, it’s not a stretch to say Isaiah Duncan drives the team.
It’s a role he takes to the literal extreme.
“If we have to have people picked up to get to practice he drives and picks them up,” coach John H. Lilly said. “He leaves as soon as school is out to go pick up two kids because they can’t get here because we only have half the kids here and half not (due to different grades being remote on certain days). His leadership ability has been great. I’m really proud of him and happy for him because he’s paid his dues. He wanted to be quarterback and he waited for his time and now it’s his turn to shine and he’s made the best of it.”
That’s taking it to the extreme. But he sees that as his role as a team leader.
“His maturation in the last year as a person and a leader is what I’m proud of the most,” Lilly said. “Anything we get out on the football field is just gravy.”
Suffice to say the Patriots are set on gravy for Thanksgiving.
Duncan has led a passing attack to a offense that already has one of the state’s best running backs in Atticus Goodson (1,269 yards, 19 rush TDs).
This season Duncan has completed 27 of 47 passes for 826 yards and nine touchdowns. His averages of 30.6 per completion and 17.6 per attempt are the area’s best. All of his receivers, Trey Bowers, Cyrus Goodson, Judah Price and Atticus Goodson average over 20 yards per reception, with Bowers and the brothers Goodson averaging over 30.
In a 42-0 victory over NIcholas County Friday, Duncan was held under 100 yards passing (2 for 2, 84 yards) for the first time this season ,but he added new element, breaking out a little bit of a running game of his own.
The senior signal caller had nine carries for 79 yards (8.8 yards per carry) and two touchdowns, the first two rushing scorers of the season for Duncan.
It seemed to be a new wrinkle in week six for the Patriots. Duncan had 26 carries in the previous five games for 88 yards (3.4 yards per carry).
Of course, with one of the state’s top running backs in Atticus Goodson featured in the offense, sometimes other elements of get lost in the mix.
“Yeah when you’ve got the best running backs in the state, but that’s what helps you out,” Duncan said. “They all key on him. And when they key in on him the holes open up and I just hit them hard and try to get in there.”
He has also developed a recent chemistry with receiver Cyrus Goodson. He hit the sophomore for a 73-yard touchdown reception Friday. In the last four games Goodson has nine catches for 341 yards and five touchdowns.
“Coming out of the offseason this year he decided he wanted to play football this year, and he’s he’s a big, tall lanky kid. He’s fast and not a lot of people can keep up with him,” Duncan said. “If I just put the ball there, it kind of comes all together.”
The Patriots also ran a lot more tempo than they had in the past, a recent past that saw the team lose two straight after opening the season 3-0.
“Definitely, we had some plays that were working for us,” Duncan said. “So we just kept getting on the ball and just kept hammering them down with the same plays over and over and over again and they kept working.”
His play was not bad for a guy just out of quarantine. Independence had been off the previous two Friday’s after a loss to Raleigh County rival Liberty Oct. 2 due to a Covid case in the school. His tests remained negative.
“I came in contact (with a known Covid carrier) in one of my classes so I had to take two weeks off,” Duncan said. “But I was still doing things at home. I had to keep up the pace of everybody else who was practicing. That and keeping my arm loose is about (all he did).”
Lilly said Duncan was “the surprise player” at this point and his play had galvanized a position of concern for the team. Not bad for a guy who had to learn from the very basics of the position entering his career.
“We’ve been butting heads for about two years now on technique,” Lilly said. “No one ever taught him how to throw the ball and his technique was so bad. It’s good having coaches like coach (Kevin Grogg), and Joe Dean and coach (Scotty) Cuthbert, guys who can help out with stuff like that.”
Duncan’s play is one of the big reasons the team is 4-2 and sitting at No. 14 in the Class AA playoff ratings.
But it’s still that element of leadership that has impressed Lilly, a former Marine.
“He runs the team really well, he runs the offense really well,” Lilly said. “His leadership ability has been pretty good. We kind of have a father-son relationship. We work on more stuff (life lessons) off the field than we do on the field.”
The Patriots will be at Lincoln (sitting a 2-2 and in need of a win to help their current No. 17 spot in Class AA, just out of the playoff picture).