Just how much has changed since the late-August night when three-time defending 4AA state champion went to Butler and posted a 35-20 victory?
That question will be answered Friday night when the teams, who have accounted for six of the past seven state big-school championships, meet once again at Butler in a second-round playoff contest.
In that Aug. 26 game, the visiting Mavericks took advantage of two Butler fumbles for touchdown drives, and they held Bulldog running back Nijere Peoples to 21 yards in nine carries.
The following week, Peoples had a breakout game against Western Alamance, and he has averaged about 150 yards rushing a game since. The Bulldogs (11-1) have not lost since. Mallard Creek’s losses were to S.C. power South Pointe and to conference rival Vance.
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Peoples’ emergence as a big-play running back is not the only change since August. Butler coach Brian Hales, suspended with pay by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools because of a pending assault charge, was replaced by defensive coordinator Michael Nahum as interim coach.
“Our kids have faced adversity before, and we’ve overcome,” Nahum said last week. “This is our focus now.”
Butler and Mallard Creek also met in the playoffs last year, with the Mavericks winning 35-30 in a third-round game played at Providence.
Something that has not changed: Mallard Creek’s penalty problems. The Mavericks have been whistled for more than 100 yards in infractions in a number of games this year, including 12 penalties for 138 yards against Butler. In last week’s 21-16 playoff win at Hough, Mallard Creek was penalized 21 times for 192 yards.
Other matchups to watch
Vance (11-1) at Myers Park (11-1), 7:30 p.m. (4AA): Quarterback Kingsley Ifedi and the high-scoring Vance attack faces a Mustangs’ defense that has shut down everyone but Butler this season.
Mount Tabor (9-3) at Charlotte Catholic (11-1), 7:30 p.m. (4A): The visiting Spartans lost two of their past three regular-season games and needed a last-minute interception and field goal to beat Porter Ridge last week. They’ll face a tough challenge against the Cougars, who have won 11 in a row and averaging more than 300 yards rushing per game.
Ledford (9-3) at Weddington (9-3), 7:30 p.m. (3AA): The visiting Panthers are a high-scoring offense, but Weddington has won eight in a row and surrendered an average of 7.7 points during that streak.
Hickory Ridge (10-2) at South Iredell (9-3), 7:30 p.m. (3AA): South Iredell has scored 40 or more points eight times this season. But it will face a Hickory Ridge defense that has keyed an eight-game winning streak. Linebacker Dan Louba has 36 tackles for loss and eight sacks this season.
East Lincoln (10-2) at West Caldwell (10-2), 7:30 p.m. (2AA): West Caldwell won 42-32 in the regular-season meeting of these Southern District 7 2A foes. East Lincoln quarterback Marcus Graham has passed for 2,243 yards and 25 touchdowns. West Caldwell’s Titus Tucker has 2,700 yards total offense, has thrown for 14 touchdowns and run for 15.
Airport (5-6) at South Pointe (10-1), 7:30 p.m. (S.C. 4A): South Pointe, which has lost only to a Maryland football power this season, will face a team that is allowing an average of nearly 40 points a game.