MATTHEWS – When Butler walked off the field following a thorough 51-6 whipping of Garinger on Oct. 26, the Bulldogs couldn’t have know that, through no fault of their own, their season would be forever changed.
The Bulldogs were clicking at the time, having won six straight games. In the win over Garinger, Jamal Worthy had run for over 100 yards and the offense had scored 30 or more points in each of their past six games.
Worthy and Quasean Holmes both rushed well over 600 yards. Quarterback Christian Peters was having a great season with nearly 1,400 passing yards. Keyon Lesane was doing his thing as an offensive weapon wherever he lines up, and Josh Barnette was coming into his own at receiver.
Defensively, Darius and Donovan Law, Raevon and Traevon Freeman, Brandon Mason, Tyran James, John Park and Lesane were contributing to a unit that was allowing just over 20 points per game, but only 14 over the previous three-game stretch that included a decisive 39-22 win over previously unbeaten Myers Park.
But it all came to a screeching halt.
The same weekend that Butler had worn out Garinger in perhaps their most dominating performance of the season Hickory Ridge had brawled with East Meck while Rocky River had fought with Independence during and after their football games.
Hickory Ridge self-banned themselves from the playoffs even though they wouldn’t have likely made the postseason in the first place. The other three schools forfeited their final two games.
The Bulldogs were given wins for their now forfeited games against East Meck (Nov. 2) and Independence (Nov. 9). Myers Park was given wins for their games over Independence (Nov. 2) and East Meck (Nov. 9) but the Mustangs got the benefit of playing Providence in the first round in a game they won 55-7.
That also meant that Butler didn’t play during those weeks, instead waiting nearly a month after also receiving a first-round bye as the unbeaten Southwestern 4A regular-season champions.
Butler coach Brian Hales rallied his team and put them through some spirited practices at the time to try to replicate game speed.
But that’s nearly an impossible task to do in a practice setting and especially so not wanting to risk injury with the playoffs looming.
“It was quite a big challenge,” Hales said. “The last thing I want to do is make excuses, but I think we went 27 days when it was all said and done. That’s hard enough to do going into your first game of the year, but much less going into a playoff game.
“Myers Park didn’t have it much better than us having to sit out two (games) before their first (playoff game). But it’s the difference of them stepping into a first-round game and us stepping into a second-round game against a quality opponent. That’s not to say the outcome would have been any different whatsoever, but the layoff was definitely a challenge and it definitely affected us.”
The Bulldogs made a few glaring mistakes, but most of them were little things. Butler spotted Myers Park some early momentum, including a safety and an interception to go down 12-0.
Then, on 4th-and-2 from their own 28, the Bulldogs ran one of their most basic run packages, but when Peters turned around to handoff the ball Worthy had mistakenly gone the wrong way, resulting in a 4-yard loss and a turnover on downs.
“We were out of sync just enough where it was a yard there or a yard here,” Hales said. “That could have been a five or six yard gain if he had just gone the right way. It’s just stuff like that. It’s stuff that when you’re in the flow doing it, it’s no big deal, but it’s the mental rust more than the physical rust in that case. That’s an automatic play for us, but the running back just went the wrong way.”
From there, Hales tried to get his team back in the game, but the Myers Park defense was stout.
Lesane eventually put the Bulldogs on the scoreboard with a late touchdown, but the Mustangs answered and went on to win 33-8.
“They had a good plan to take away some of our better plays,” Hales said. “Myers Park played a great game and had a heck of a game plan so I don’t want to take anything away from them. There were some chances that I felt I had to take to give us a chance, and it just didn’t work out for us. It wasn’t any different than what we’ve been doing all year going for some of those fourth downs. All year long we’ve been getting them and we didn’t do it against them.”
But all in all it was another good season for Butler, who went 9-3, won the conference and only lost to old rival Mallard Creek, Myers Park and Richmond.
Myers Park and Richmond meet in the 4-AA semifinals this week, but the Bulldogs have shown they are still one of the state’s elite teams.
“As long as we’re still in the conversation, I feel pretty good,” Hales said. “It’s when people start forgetting about us that I’ll worry.”