MATTHEWS – Butler opened its 2019 season with a win, but not before overcoming several challenges both on and off the field in their 21-10 opening night victory over Hough that spanned two days.
First, their 8 p.m. kickoff time was pushed back twice by lightning delays, and once as the Bulldogs had already taken the field.
The players had to cool down and then get themselves ready to play again an hour or so later.
“We’ve had some of that last year with the 27 days in between games with the forfeits and all,” Butler coach Brian Hales said. “But, honestly, that stuff comes from them. There’s a certain maturity you have to have to handle a situation like that, and you don’t really know what you have until you’re in a situation like that. I was really proud of our kids the way they handled all of that.”
When the game finally did start, Hough star running back Evan Pryor took a handoff 83 yards for a touchdown to get Hough up 7-0.
“I kind of could see him go and the blocks open up for him and I thought, ‘Oh man, this isn’t going to be good’ because he can roll,” Hales said.
From there, the Bulldogs were able to settle down some, although the offense didn’t have its best day.
Lamont Brooks got Butler on the board with a 3-yard run after a blocked punt by Donovan Law, but Butler’s vaunted run game was slowed as Brooks and Jamal Worthy combined for only 66 yards rushing on 26 carries.
“They have this one D-tackle (Curtis Neal) and he was about the best D-tackle we’ve seen since I’ve been here,” Hales said. The kid just disrupted so much stuff and they did a great job of scouting us.”
New quarterback Parish Metzger did enough to win including a crucial 7-yard touchdown pass to Bo Huff late in the third quarter. Metzger finished 7-of-12 for 71 yards and the score.
But the Bulldogs got help in other areas. Hales said the kick coverage was as good as it’s been in years, the Bulldogs blocked three kicks, Jacalyn Morrison added an interception and Blake Moore had a big fumble recovery to help the Bulldogs seal the win.
“We need to be better in the passing game, that’s not a secret to anyone,” Hales said. “We need to get better there if we want to make a run at this thing in November and December, but first game stuff you’re going to see some mistakes. Overall, that was a good team win. Offense didn’t play particularly well, but the defense served us up the ball inside the 10 a couple of times. That certainly helped, but to be able to turn around and convert those into touchdowns instead of field goals was a big deal. It was a good team win because we got contributions from all three phases and we’re going to need that in November and December. I was proud to see these guys rallying around each other.”
The road doesn’t get any easier for Butler who will travel to Mallard Creek this week and to regional power Richmond the following week.
Last week, the nationally ranked Mavs played to a 27-27 draw with South Carolina power Dutch Fork, which is led by former Independence coach Tom Knotts.
The game was televised on ESPN and lived up to the hype for the much-anticipated first meeting, but when the Bulldogs face Mallard Creek it will seem more like a conference game.
The two teams have faced each other at least once each season since 2011 and the teams have played a total of 13 times in that stretch with Butler winning just four of those meetings.
Mallard Creek has won two in a row and six of the past seven meetings, but both teams know exactly what the other wants to do and there will be few secrets.
“We have to start with finding the things that we did either incorrectly or poorly in Week 1 and try to get that stuff cleaned up and improved upon until we can worry about Mallard, Richmond or anyone else,” Hales said. “We have to take care of the Bulldogs first, but after that Mallard isn’t real complicated, but they don’t have to be either. I’m sure they could be if they wanted to, but it’s a matter of lining up next to them and earning their respect.”