Front Royal, VA (February 12, 2021) - Some games are easy to recap. Even during the playoffs, really close games are the exception rather than the rule. And overtime periods are rare as well, with a single extra period usually deciding the outcome in those cases.

This championship game between the top two teams in Region 3B--the Skyline Hawks and the Independence Tigers--was different and, well, it simply defied description.

Chas Sumser Photography was there to capture the action and emotion and posted a gallery of images from the game.

Midway through the first quarter, Independence had a solid lead, 7-2. In fact, the start of the game looked a lot like their two previous regional matchups, which were easy routs of George Mason and Manassas Park, respectively. Just like before, the Tigers were hitting their shots and forcing the Hawks into missed opportunities and turnovers.

But all of that suddenly turned around, and by the end of the period Skyline had completely captured all of the momentum in the gym to lead, 18-11. Towering center Marlon Jackson began to assert his dominance in the middle, and the Hawks' pressing, hand-checking defense was making life difficult for Independence.

In the second quarter, Skyline opened up its largest lead of the night at 28-16. Critically, Independence guard Wes Williams picked up his second foul and had to come out of the game. But maybe that sparked his team a bit as they closed the gap to trail only 32-27 at halftime. 

Williams returned to the lineup as play resumed, but just two minutes later he picked up his third foul and left the lineup again. Skyline immediately pushed the lead to ten points, and with half of the third period left it was starting to look like the game would go their way. But somehow the Tigers clawed their way back. When Jack Gagen hit a three-pointer at 0:46, they had reduced the margin down to five, 52-47, as the period ended.

In the fourth, Independence applied a full court press, but Skyline had a relatively easy time beating it. With five minutes remaining in regulation, they had expanded their lead slightly, 62-56.

And that's when things got crazy...

In the final minutes of the fourth quarter, with Williams now leading the way, somehow the Tigers found a way to tie the game, 67-67, and force overtime. With only two seniors on each team, the levels of determination, poise, leadership, teamwork, confidence simply belied that fact. No one was going to lose this game, and someone would have to win it.

In the first overtime, again the Hawks held the advantage most of the time. With a minute remaining and trailing, 75-73, the Tigers threw away a chance to tie--and it looked like that mistake might decide the game. But they got another chance with Williams on the foul line after a hard foul, and he sank both free throws to send the game to another extra period, 77-77. Skyline actually had the ball under their own basket with a chance to win in the final seconds, but could not convert.

The second overtime was even crazier. Independence was trailing 87-83 with just thirty second remaining, but Aiden Cibulsky nailed a huge three-point shot and clutch free throws to send the game into a third extra stanza.

Perhaps because they are so young, neither team showed any sign of fatigue in the third overtime. When they look back at this game, they will all know that they hit their shots when they had to and never gave up. Finally--for the first time since the opening minutes of the game--the Tigers pulled ahead with just a minute remaining, 100-98. Skyline would tie it once more, but Independence would not relinquish the lead and the victory celebration began.

In this season--so affected by COVID restrictions--with empty bleachers and without raucous encouragement from fans--all of the energy, all of the pace, and all of the heart had to come from within. There is nothing to build on except team, plain and simple. On this night, both teams gave everything they had and there was virtually no difference between them in the end. One team won this time, but both teams played like champions and perhaps they'll meet again next year at this time.

It's on to states for Independence. They earned it.

Final Score: Independence 107 - Skyline 102

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