Now that I've had time to think about it, I wanted to address where I think 2012 Butler's place in Mecklenburg County history is.
And I think it's pretty far up there.
I guess the only thing that's really unfortunate is we never got to see this team at full strength. QB Riley Ferguson missed six of 15 games with a broken hand. Stud defensive lineman Grant Polofsky missed the stretch run with a torn ACL. Even in the championship game, as Butler built leads of as much as 42 points against overmatched Fayetteville Britt, the Bulldogs lost their best two-way player, Michigan recruit Channing Stribling, to what coach Brian Hales called a deep thigh bruise.
At full strength all year, these Bulldogs could've been extra scary. As it was, Butler was rarely pressed and pretty much cruised to a third state title in four years, polishing off a four-year run where Butler was 57-2.
So, where does this team -- blessed with a stud tailback (Josh Glisson), one of the nation's best quarterbacks (Riley Ferguson), one of the nation's best receivers (Uriah LeMay), one of the nation's best linebackers (Peter Kalambay) and several guys who would start for ANYONE in the state (Stribling, Polofsky, LB Sean Wiggins) -- where does it stand against the best in Mecklenburg County history?
I think it matches up favorably with all that have come before it.
Now, I think some of the great Charlotte Catholic teams and some of the all-time great private school teams at Country Day and Charlotte Latin don't make the top 10 list because they simply didn't have the size, speed or numbers to compete with the other super teams here. That's no knock against them. They were all great teams, but here we're talking about the Mount Olympus of Mecklenburg County football, and here's my list:
10. HARDING 1952-53: I put both teams together. The Rams, coached by the legendary Dave Harris, didn't lose a game for 35 straight games and won two state titles.
9. CHARLOTTE CATHOLIC 2005: For me, this was the best Cougars team. Big offensive line. Stud running backs. Speed. It won by an average of 23 points and these Cougars held nine teams to seven points or less in rout to a state 3AA title.
8. MALLARD CREEK 2010: One of two teams on my list that didn't win a state championship. This team was nationally ranked and beating teams by nearly 50 points per game behind All-American QB Marquise Williams. Williams injured his ankle against Ardrey Kell in a second round playoff and was limited in a quarterfinal game against Vance. With Williams at full strength, Mallard Creek beat Vance 44-24 in the regular-season. With him sitting much of the rematch and limited, Mallard Creek lost the rematch 10-7 and ruined what could've been one of the greatest matchups in county history: nationally ranked Mallard Creek against nationally ranked Butler, which later won the 2010 state title.
7. SOUTH MECKLENBURG 1981: Led by superstar tailbacks Steve Griffin and Kelvin Crooms, a pair of Shrine Bowlers, the Sabres shut out two playoff opponents and allowed the other two to score just 17 points and rolled to a 14-win unbeaten season and a 27-14 win over Fayetteville Sanford in the NC 4A championship game.
6. WEST CHARLOTTE 1996: The second non-championship winning team on my list. This was the best West Charlotte team I've ever seen led by All-American QB Keith Matkins, who signed with South Carolina, and USA Today offensive national player of the year Steve Shipp, a wide receiver who signed with Florida. The '95 Lions won the NC 4A championship and this team was ranked as high as No. 2 in the nation in 1996. It held seven opponents to eight or fewer points with future Wilmington Hoggard state championship winning coach Scott Braswell and future Independence head coach Bill Geiler coaching the defense and the county's best ever coach, Tom Knotts, running the team and the offense. But the Lions D fell apart in a 42-41 home playoff loss to Greensboro Page behind a splendid tailback named Carlos Doggett. Had this team won it all, as expected, it would challenge, still, for the best ever around here.
5. BUTLER 2010: Won its games by nearly 35 points per game behind sophomore QB Riley Ferguson. It's scary to think how good this team may've been if senior Christian LeMay was back. LeMay didn't play but he was the nation's No. 2 ranked quarterback in 2010 and he eventually signed with Georgia. As it was, Butler still averaged 46 points per game, held seven teams to single digits and won the state final -- behind Auburn-bound stud linebacker Kris Frost -- 44-0 over Wake Forest-Rolesville.
4. INDEPENDENCE 2002: Chris Leak's senior year and he has at the height of his (high school) abilities. This team won by an average of nearly 40 points and outscored playoff teams 207-40. Knotts got a viral illness in the playoffs and wasn't himself. He missed a 20-7 playoff win over Scotland Senior but this team kept rolling. Of all the teams I rank here, this one might be low.
3. BUTLER 2012: I think this team slots in here. Hard to deny all the high major Division I recruits and just pure overall talent. Like so many of my teams on this list, you wonder good it really could've been with Ferguson and Polofsky healthy, but these Bulldogs were dominant for nearly the entire season and put a huge exclamation point on the season with one of the more lopsided championship games I've ever seen. There was never any doubt.
2. INDEPENDENCE 2004: This was the biggest Independence team, with Division I sized linemen, superior skill athletes and All-America QB Joe Cox quarterbacking the whole thing. The state's overall talent was down and Charlotte was a good bit down, but man, these guys were good. They won by an average of 46 points. The closest game was a 47-19 win over Richmond Senior in the semifinals.
1 INDEPENDENCE 2001: For my money, Leak -- a three-time national high school player of the year (two in his age group, one overall) -- is the best prep player ever from Mecklenburg County. This was his best team. These Patriots won by nearly 40 points per game and began the year with a 77-13 win over an Austin East (Tenn) team that came in with a national ranking and a state championship win streak. The 2001 season ended with a 49-25 win over Wilmington Laney in a state final where the Patriots faced a bit of a chllenge -- and rolled to Leak's second straight state title.
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