Mallard Creek’s 56-14 second round N.C. Class 4AA football playoff victory over Butler on Friday at Mallard Creek didn’t start out the way it ended.
But a literal bad turn along the way helped turn a tight ball game between two rivals into a rout.
Mallard Creek (12-1), the No. 4 seed, advanced to a regional semifinal game against Providence next Friday, led by quarterback James Smith’s three touchdown runs and a ball-hawking defense that picked off four Butler passes – returning a pair for touchdowns.
But most of that was after senior quarterback Anthony Ratliff-Williams, who had led the No. 5 seeded Bulldogs (11-3) back from an early two-touchdown deficit, left the game in the second quarter with an apparent knee injury.
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Butler wasn’t the same after that.
“It made a big difference, not just because of his physical ability, but because of his leadership,” Butler coach Brian Hales said. “I was proud of the way we kept battling, but we made some turnovers and things just snowballed. You can’t do that and beat a team as well-coached as they are.”
The Mavericks had a 14-0 lead just four minutes into the game after Vernon Grier returned the opening kickoff 91 yards for a score and Chancery Bowman scored on a 3-yard run six plays after an interception by defensive back Amari Henderson.
But Butler responded with a couple of touchdown drives – one lightning-quick and another a marathon march. Ratliff-Williams ended the first with a 24-yard run with five minutes left in the quarter.
The second was a 20-play, 96-yard drive that ended with a 1-yard touchdown run by junior fullback Christian LeMay with about nine minutes left in the first half. But along the way, Ratliff-Williams left the game after taking a hard hit and ended the half on the sidelines on crutches.
Sophomore Davis Cheek replaced him and tossed a 24-yard completion to Clifton Duck to keep the drive alive. But the Bulldogs weren't the same team after that.
Mallard Creek took a 21-14 halftime lead on Chancery Bowman’s 49-yard touchdown run.
“We just told the players that they needed to keep making plays, no matter who was on the other sideline,” Mavericks coach Mike Palmieri said. “I thought we played really well on defense and we’re just happy to be moving on to the next round.”
A 102-yard interception return by Devin Mines was the highlight of a 28-point third quarter that put the game away. That ended Butler’s last serious scoring threat after the Bulldogs, trailing 42-14 at the time, had reached the Mallard Creek 1 on a 48-yard pass from Cheek to Duck.
Mines picked fullback Jalen Cousar’s jump pass out of a crowd in the end zone and took it the length of the field.