CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- For one half of its 27-6 win over Mallard Creek Friday, Butler displayed the kind of performance that should’ve put some serious worry into teams hoping to win the N.C. 4AA championship.
The Bulldogs’ offense was crisp, the defense aggressive and the points came in bunches. Butler led its nationally ranked opponent 24-0 after two quarters, looking like a team sporting three major-college recruits on offense and another on defense.
Things changed, however, after halftime.
Butler quarterback Riley Ferguson, a Tennessee recruit, threw three interceptions in the third quarter. He said he had never thrown three in a game before. Butler (1-0) bogged down on offense, also adding a lost fumble. Mallard Creek (0-1) got the ball at the Bulldogs’ 32 or better four straight times at 17,000-seat Memorial Stadium.
What did the Mavericks have to show for it? Two missed field goals, a turnover on downs and an 9-yard scoring run from preseason All-Americ receiver Marquez North.
It wasn’t nearly enough.
“Before we talk about the mistakes, I want to talk about the effort our defense gave,” said Butler coach Brian Hales, whose team is nationally ranked and No. 1 in the Observer’s Sweet 16. “They got in some tough spots and they kept coming up big. They had a great attitude. I’m really proud of our defense.”
On offense, after halftime, Butler looked like a work in progress. Hales was OK with that.
“It’s the first game of the year,” he said. “We’re far from where we’re going to be come October, November and ideally December. We’ll get those things worked out.”
It’ll help the Bulldogs for Ferguson to get healthy. He broke his thumb at the base running a drill at the Elite 11 camp for the nation’s best quarterbacks three weeks ago. His passes didn’t have their normal zip, though he threw for 158 yards and three scores.
“I tried to not think about” the thumb, Ferguson said. “I’m about 70 percent throwing it. Just squeezing the ball is the hardest thing. Listen, our defense held us up tonight pretty good and we just had to finish out the game, run the ball, and our offensive line stepped up.”
Mallard Creek, No. 2 in the Sweet 16, had trouble getting the ball to North, the No. 1 recruit in North Carolina. He had one carry in the first half for 5 yards and finished with no receptions and three carries for 15 yards. Butler harassed Mavericks junior quarterback Emiere Scaife, who was making his first career start.
Scaife completed 8-of-16 passes for 113 yards and rushed 20 times for 39 yards. Mallard Creek was held to 65 yards rushing.
“Well,” Mallard Creek coach Mike Palmieri said, “our quarterback’s young and their quarterback starts for three years. It’ll be a little uneven, for now anyway. That’s a tough team we were going against. We’ve got a ways to go and we feel comfortable with where we’re at.
“We’ll be a different team come playoff time, I’ll tell you that. We’ll see (Butler) again, and we’ll be a better team at that time.”