MATTHEWS – As Nolan Carey’s punt late in the third quarter started bouncing toward the Butler sideline, several Bulldog coaches shouted “no, no, no” as punt returner Keyon Lesane made his way to the football.
Lesane must have heard something differently.
He scooped up the punt in front of two Hickory Ridge defenders, broke two tackles and then raced 46 yards for a touchdown that gave the Bulldogs a 28-0 lead in what would be a 47-14 victory over the Ragin’ Bulls in a Southwestern 4A showdown on Oct. 19.
“I heard everybody say, ‘go get the ball,’” Lesane said. “So, I said, ‘I’m going to get the ball and take off.’ I didn’t see those two players, but I just broke a tackle and started off running. They had me wrapped up, but I just stiff-armed, I broke off and I could see the end zone.”
“That was one of those, no, no, no, yes, yes, yes plays,” said Butler coach Brian Hales. “It was scary when he went to field it. I said, ‘he is going to pick this one up.’ But that is just Keyon. Keyon is just a strong kid, and once he gets some space, you can’t touch him.”
Lesane’s punt return on the final play of the third quarter was one of six second half touchdowns by the Bulldogs. Butler led 7-0 at halftime, but rushed for 299 yards in the second half as they scored five straight touchdowns for a 41-0 lead with 7 minutes, 12 seconds left in the game.
“We just had to get settled down,” Hales said of the second-half onslaught. “I didn’t do a good job in the first half and I let the emotions get the best of me and I think the kids sensed that and picked up on that. We talked about settling down and just play how we play. The kids came out and responded.”
Hickory Ridge joined the conference in 2017 and stunned the Bulldogs 43-42 last fall. This time Butler put the game away when they had the chance.
Lamont Brooks carried the ball three times for 112 yards as the junior had runs of 56, 53 and three yards while scoring a pair of touchdowns. Lesane added another touchdown with a 48-yard scoring run as the senior finished with 73 yards on six carries. Jamal Worthy rushed 13 times for 68 yards while Quasean Holmes added 42 yards on eight carries.
Most of Holmes’ total came on a key play early in the third quarter with the Bulldogs leading 14-0.
Facing 3rd-and-7 at the Hickory Ridge 41, Butler put the ball on the ground on the snap out of a shotgun formation but Holmes alertly picked up the loose football and raced 26 yards down to the Ragin’ Bulls 15. Three plays later, Worthy powered in from the three for a 20-0 lead.
“It was focus and concentration and the quarterback trusted me to pick up the ball,” Holmes said. “I was thinking, I just have to run, run. This is a big win because they beat us at home on homecoming last year. So, this was payback.”
Hales said Holmes’ first-down run was one of many key plays in the game.
“That was big,” Hales said. “These kids play hard and they pay attention to what is going on. Mistakes happen out here. It was just a great job by Holmes having awareness of what was going on and making something happen.”
The Bulldogs used a defensive stop on fourth down to setup their first touchdown.
Butler then took command with three touchdowns in the third quarter. The Bulldogs needed seven plays to go 54 yards for a 14-0 lead on the first possession of the second half. Worthy started the drive with an 11-yard run and the junior capped the drive with a 10-yard run for a 14-0 lead with 9:31 left in the third quarter.
Holmes then keyed the Bulldogs’ next drive when he picked up a fumble for a 26-yard gain and Lesane’s punt return for a touchdown broke the Ragin’ Bulls’ back as the Bulldogs never looked back.
Butler (6-2, 4-0) remains in control of the conference championship race with three games left in the regular season. The Bulldogs travel to Garinger Oct. 26 before closing out the regular season at home against East Meck (Nov. 2) and Independence (Nov. 9).
Winning the league title would give the Bulldogs a first-round bye in the playoffs.
“Like I told them, we have to prepare each week like we are playing for the conference championship,” Hales said. “We don’t want to stub our toe because we want to have momentum going into the playoffs.”