A few thoughts and observations from the first night of the season:
• Even when it polished off a second straight N.C. 4AA championship in 2010, Id always felt that this season would be Butlers best.
The Bulldogs were upset by Greensboro Page last season in the quarterfinals, but this is the senior year for a very talented core of players who were star sophomores in 2010. Four have committed to major colleges and there are many more players with college potential. This team could rival the best that Butlers produced.
One thing second-year coach Brian Hales needs to fix is attention to detail. I noticed last year that Butler commits far too many 15-yard penalties, often after the play is blown dead. The Bulldogs were rung up for a few more in Fridays 27-6 win over Mallard Creek, but once starting quarterback Riley Fergusons thumb heals, this team could be special.
• I absolutely loved Mallard Creek coach Mike Palmieris reaction to the loss Friday. He lingered on the field and had a big smile on his face. He knows he has a good team and one heckuva defense. His Mavericks are working with a young quarterback and were facing one of the best defensive teams in the Carolinas. By playoff time, Mallard Creek will be what it always is: one of the best teams around.
• Providence Day should feel good about itself despite Fridays 34-21 loss to South Point. South Point is a 3A power, a school nearly three times the size of Providence Day, and the Chargers led 21-13 at one point. Charger Robby Rucho had 11 tackles and Daniel Stark and John Carrick had nine each to help keep it close. Providence Day proved it is ready to defend its private school state title. It wont have to beat South Point to do it.
• South Point lost 27 seniors from the one-loss 2011 team, but it broke in new stars. Junior running back Tyler Bray rushed a school-record 42 times for 193 yards and new quarterback Jaquan Brooks became the third quarterback in school history to rush for 200 yards.
• A fact that may get lost in Sun Valleys 56-28 loss to powerhouse Richmond Senior Friday, especially since Richmond ran up more than 600 yards of offense: Sun Valley may have found a star in sophomore Albert Funderburk. He ran 13 times for 200 yards.
• Friday was a huge night for quarterbacks. In Fort Mill, Nation Ford junior Dalton Helms got his first start and threw for 255 yards and three scores in a 38-0 win over Forestview. Concords B.J. Beecher threw for seven touchdowns against West Charlotte. Central Cabarrus Hasaan Klugh threw for 363 yards and five touchdowns against South Rowan. And in Union County, Central Academy senior Travis Levin had a memorable first start. He threw for 428 yards and led his team, a 1A school, to a 34-27 win over Parkwood, a 3A school.
Three of Levins receivers topped 100 yards: Cody Jefferson (four catches, 163 yards, two TDs); Sergio Gomez (3-147) and Quay Threatt (6-113).
• The biggest upset of the night was in Gaffney, where Rock Hills Northwestern High manhandled nationally ranked Gaffney 49-19. Northwestern junior quarterback Mason Rudolph threw for 282 yards and two touchdowns.
• Indian Trails Porter Ridge High has reached two straight N.C. 4A Western Regional championship games. The biggest question mark about a potential third, at least coming into the season, was at quarterback. Nick Vagnone may have erased those concerns in a 35-13 win over a strong 1A Monroe team.
He threw two touchdown passes and led his team to its 15th straight win against a Union County school. Monroe didnt manage a first down until late in the third quarter.