In each of the past two seasons, Mallard Creek and Butler have met in August and again in the 4AA Western Regional final game. Both years, the winner of the first went on to win the second and a state title: Butler in 2012 and Mallard Creek in 2013.
The Butler Bulldogs will hope that trend continues this season.
The Bulldogs beat the Mavericks 28-27 at Providence High in a game between the top two teams in the Observer Sweet 16 that was decided by a missed extra point.
“The beating we took from them last year was bad, it was ugly and it was demoralizing, and we talked about it all offseason,” said Butler coach Brian Hales, referring to Mallard Creek’s 56-14 playoff win last December. “So for these guys to come out and play the way they did and compete the way they did ... now they know what they’re capable of.
“If there’s a better team out there than those guys (Mallard Creek), I don’t want to see them.”
After No. 1 Mallard Creek (1-1) took a 21-20 lead on a 15-yard Chancery Bowman run with 7 minutes, 33 seconds left in the game, No. 2 Butler (2-0) turned to junior running back Benjamin LeMay.
LeMay – who Hales said was unhappy about not getting the ball much early in the game – took an Anthony Ratliff-Williams (7-of-15, 182 yards and 2 touchdowns) screen pass 50 yards to get down to the Mallard Creek 21.
He followed that with a 12-yard run, and three plays later he scored on a run up the middle from 6 yards out.
“This is like a dream come true. I’ve seen it happen in my dreams,” said LeMay, who finished with 82 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries and added 95 receiving yards and a touchdown.
“We’ve been working too hard over the summer and during the spring, and we wanted this too much.”
Ratliff-Williams ran a bootleg to the left to score the two-point conversion and give Butler a 28-21 lead with 4:48 left in the game.
Mallard Creek, ranked No. 11 nationally by USA Today, turned the ball over on downs on its next possession, but managed to stop Butler on the ensuing drive, and the Mavericks got the ball back on their own 18 yard line with 1:11 left in the game.
On the first play of the drive, quarterback James Smith (13-of-23, 211 yards and a touchdown) found Vernon Grier on a post route for an 82-yard touchdown pass to make the score 28-27 Butler.
During the celebration, Mallard Creek was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct, moving the extra point from the 3-yard-line to the 18. The 35-yard extra-point attempt fell well short, and Butler recovered Mallard Creek’s onside kick attempt.
“It really just builds confidence and shows that we can be top contenders in the country and in the state, too,” LeMay said.
Hales was proud of his defense after the game, but the Bulldogs never had an answer for Mallard Creek running back Bowman, who rushed for 230 yards and three touchdowns on 29 carries.
Butler scored first on a 67-yard pass from Ratliff-Williams to Clifton Duck in the first quarter, but Mallard Creek answered in the second on a 26-yard touchdown run by Bowman.
The Bulldogs then scored on a 3-yard LeMay run with less than a minute left in the half to take a 14-7 lead and opened up the third quarter with another touchdown on a 14-yard pass from Ratliff Williams to LeMay to take a 20-7 lead.
A 37-yard run by Bowman cut the Butler lead to 20-14 heading into the final quarter.
Inscoe: 704-358-5923; Twitter: @CoreyInscoe
The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.
Have a news tip? You can send it to a local news editor; email email@example.com to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Charlotte Observer.Read moreRead less