CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Nationally ranked Butler beat arch rival Independence 33-14 at Memorial Stadium Friday in front of a large crowd that included Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and Panthers cheerleaders.
Butler won its 27th straight Southwestern 4A conference game, its fourth straight conference championship and saw All-America quarterback Riley Ferguson make a strong return after missing six games with a broken hand. Ferguson threw for 235 yards and had a rushing touchdown.
But the Bulldogs (10-0, 7-0) also committed 15 penalties for 147 yards and cost themselves two scores plus a 50-plus yard pass play that likely would have led to another. Those kind of mistakes helped Independence (9-2, 6-1) stay close.
"You saw the same game I did,” Butler Bulldogs coach Brian Hales said. “I think the guys played incredibly hard, from the snap to the whistle, and what’s going to happen is what’s going to happen. I have no control over that, but despite that, our kids fight through it. They play hard. They keep moving the ball. They have success. The guys keep persevering.”
Butler running back Josh Glisson was one of the guys who kept the ball moving. He rushed 20 times for 167 yards and three touchdowns. He caught three passes for 57 yards and he returned a late Independence on-side kick 50 yards for a fourth touchdown.
That’s Josh being Josh,” Hales said. “He does it every week.”
With Glisson rolling, Butler built a 20-0 lead – despite its penalty issues – as Independence had trouble moving the ball until the Patriots inserted sophomore quarterback Kelvin Hopkins. Patriots coach Bill Geiler said starter Jason Connella has been fighting a shoulder injury, which prompted the move.
Connella completed 2 of 3 passes for 28 yards. Hopkins was 14 of 22 for 227 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. Geiler said he didn’t know who would start next week at quarterback, but was proud of his team for making a game of it.
That’s the No. 10 team in the country and they’ve got a great team,” Geiler said. “Our kids never quit. They were outmatched, but they played hard and I’m proud of them.”
For Butler, Ferguson entered the game on the Bulldogs’ third possession and quickly led two sharp scoring drives. The penalties hurt further possessions, but Hales felt his senior was sharp.
He was awesome,” Hales said. “He picked up right where he left off.”
For Hales and Butler, there were areas of concern, though. Senior linebacker Alex Polofsky injured his knee in the first half and Hales wasn’t sure about the injury’s severity. Star receiver Uriah LeMay was removed from the game in the first half for apparent taunting. If taunting is confirmed, N.C. High School Athletic Association spokesperson Que Tucker told the Observer that LeMay would miss the Bulldogs’ first playoff game next week.
After the game, Ferguson said his team must play better if it wants to win a third state title in four years.
We are going to go out there and execute,” he said. “We’ve got to tighten it up. We know those penalties are on us and we’ve got to stop doing that.”