The passing game was shut down and the offense struggled part of the night, but the evening ended with Butler football coach Brian Hales holding the King of the Hill Trophy again.
The Bulldogs survived a tough defensive effort by neighborhood rival Independence and posted a 23-15 victory Friday night.
The triumph really wasn’t secured until the game’s final play, when the Bulldogs’ Ty Moore dashed 32 yards down the right sideline on a fake punt and ran out the clock.
“We did what we needed to,” Hales said, after the Bulldogs (5-3, 3-1 Southwestern 4A) beat the Patriots (4-4, 2-2) for the fifth straight year and kept the rivalry’s trophy.
The game took a very different turn just five minutes into the contest, when Independence starting quarterback Arnold Taylor injured his left knee while trying to evade Butler tackles. Trying to cut to the left, he fell to the ground before tacklers arrived.
Taylor was taken off the field on a cart and didn’t return.
Independence’s backup quarterback was wide receiver Shai Wheeler, who hadn’t played the position regularly since his days in Mint Hill’s youth football program.
Wheeler gave a gritty effort, passing for a touchdown and rushing for 99 yards.
But Butler’s offense produced enough big plays to make the difference.
The Bulldogs’ second touchdown came on a 52-yard pass from Parish Metzger to Lamont Brooks. Their third score, which came with 4:30 remaining on a 2-yard run by John Park, was set up by Jamal Worthy’s 48-yard gallop. That gave Butler a 23-8 lead, just two minutes after Independence had cut Butler’s lead to 16-8.
“Running is the strength of our team,” Hales said. “In a rivalry game like this, you go with the things that make you comfortable. We run the ball well.”
Independence scored on a halfback pass from Davion Nelson to Brian Morgan with 21 seconds left, but an onside kick attempt failed, and Butler was able to run out the clock.
Three who mattered
Jamal Worthy, Butler: The Bulldogs’ reliable running back was stopped by the Independence defense at times, but he broke free enough to gain 142 yards on 21 carries.
Shai Wheeler, Independence: Pressed into service as a quarterback, Wheeler gave a good accounting of himself. He rushed for 99 yards and completed 11 of 25 passes for 111 yards.
Isaiah Burney, Butler: Burney came up with an interception in the fourth quarter, halting an Independence drive.
▪ Here’s a “what-if” question … What if the last play of the first half had gone 1 yard farther? The half ended with Wheeler throwing a 26-yard pass to Trevor Bryan. He was brought down at the Butler 1.
▪ Wheeler did more than start the game at wide receiver, move to quarterback, and account for more than 200 yards offense. He also returned a kickoff 71 yards to the Butler 20 and even punted once. Independence fans thought Wheeler had scored on the kickoff, but he stepped out of bounds.
▪ A nice touch in what is sometimes a testy rivalry: the glee clubs of the two schools joined to sing the National Anthem before the game.
▪ The teams were whistled for numerous penalties. Butler had 131 yards in penalties; Independence had 137.
▪ Butler has beaten Independence five straight times and 14 of the last 15 meetings.
They said it
“That kid was slippery. He was tough. Our kids came off the field, talking about how hard he was to catch.” – Butler coach Brian Hales, referring to Independence’s Shai Wheeler.
Both teams have home Southwestern 4A games next Friday. Butler faces Harrisburg Hickory Ridge, and Independence hosts Garinger.
Butler 9 7 0 7 -- 23
Independence 0 0 0 15 – 15
B – FG Elijah Swett 26
B – Jamal Worthy 1 run (kick blocked)
B – Lamont Brooks 52 pass from Parish Metzger (Swett kick)
I – Brevin Caldwell 20 pass from Shai Wheeler (Trevor Bryan run)
B – John Park 2 run (Swett kick)
I – Brian Morgan 19 pass from Davion Nelson (Ryan Howe kick)