Several thousand fans came to Memorial Stadium to see two of the best high school football teams in the nation play a season opener to remember.
In the end, neither North Carolina’s Mallard Creek nor South Carolina’s Dutch Fork won.
Mother Nature did.
The two Carolinas powers were scheduled to play the second of a showcase high school football doubleheader at Memorial Stadium Saturday.
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But after heavy rain and lightning postponed the game between Butler and Scotland County for nearly 90 minutes, lightning came back again. Shortly after Butler polished off a 47-19 win, Dutch Fork and Mallard Creek made emotional entrances onto the field and were starting pregame warmups. With 21 minutes left in the warmups, the teams were taken off the field due to lightning.
They never came back.
Mallard Creek athletics director Phil Davanzo said after a long delay that it was not possible to play a complete game and comply with N.C. rules, which generally do not allow competition on Sundays.
That meant Mallard Creek would have to leave the field by 11:59 p.m. The game likely wouldn’t have started, if possible, until 10:30 or 10:45. At best, the teams might have played a half before the Mavericks would have had to stop.
Davanzo consulted with Mecklenburg County athletics director Sue Doran, who later spoke with N.C. High School Athletics Association commissioner Que Tucker to confirm the policy.
Davanzo felt that playing for a half, where one team might be leading or the game be tied, would lead to unnecessarily hurt feelings. He was also concerned about injury to players playing so late after warming up, cooling off and warming up again.
And there was no guarantee the weather would hold out for the game.
Dutch Fork coach Tom Knotts wanted to play Monday, but Mallard Creek officials were concerned that with a showdown with archrival Butler coming up Friday, their athletes wouldn’t have enough time to recover.
In the end, the truth was this: Everybody was disappointed.
“We worked the whole summer, pointing towards Mallard Creek,” Knotts said. “We know they’re one of the top two or three programs in North Carolina, and South Carolina football’s good, and we wanted to prove to them that we’re top dog.”
Knotts, who coached in Charlotte for three decades, bemoaned that the teams couldn’t play on Sunday.
“That’s the one thing I don’t like about North Carolina,” Knotts said, “all these crazy rules they have. What’s the difference between (finishing the game Saturday) at midnight and 12:30?”
Like Knotts, Mallard Creek coach Mike Palmieri very much wanted to play.
“We put a lot of work into this game,” he said, “but we can’t control the weather. It’s part of the season and we’ve got to bounce back on Monday (in practice). I’m sure (Knotts) would (like to play Monday), but we’ve got to play Butler on Friday and that’s too tough for us and not safe for our kids, and we’re not going to take that chance.
“The community wanted to see (Dutch Fork-Mallard Creek Saturday). It would’ve been great for our school. It’s really a let-down for us.”