CHAPEL HILL – Throughout the 2012 football season, Butler coach Brian Hales would occasionally let his mind wander and envision what it’d be like to raise the Class 4AA state championship trophy at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan Stadium on the season’s last day.
On Saturday, Dec. 1, Hales and his talented team got to experience firsthand the feeling of being undefeated state champions, as they beat Fayetteville Jack Britt, 56-28, in a game that wasn’t even as close as the score indicated.
“We are where we hoped to be,” Hales said. “This was the plan all along, and to have it work out, I’m pretty happy.”
It was the third title in four years for the Bulldogs, who also brought home the championship in 2009 and 2010.
Quarterback Riley Ferguson said before the season that it’d be a complete failure if the Bulldogs didn’t bring the championship back to Matthews again.
“It’s a dream come true,” Ferguson said. “We’ve been playing with each other since we were 6 or 7 years old. To come out on top is unbelievable. It’s awesome.”
Many of the seniors had won the title as sophomores in 2010, but this season was different because they had the opportunity to play more pivotal roles.
“It feels great right now,” said running back Josh Glisson, who had 192 yards total offense and scored three touchdowns, en route to earning Butler’s Outstanding Offensive Player of the Game award.
“This is the last thing that we can possibly do together as a football team,” Glisson said. There’s no other way we would’ve wanted to go out.”
It didn’t take long for the Bulldogs (15-0), who are ranked No. 6 nationally by ESPN, to flex their collective muscles on both sides of the ball against Britt.
Less than three minutes into the game, Ferguson, the championship game’s Most Valuable Player, threw the first of his four first-quarter touchdown passes that would stake the Bulldogs to a 28-0 lead. After Britt scored early in the second quarter, the Bulldogs got a touchdown run by Glisson, and Ferguson added another touchdown strike to Uriah LeMay with 3 minutes, 42 seconds left in the half, putting Butler up, 42-7.
Ferguson finished the game 20-for-29 passing with 301 yards and five touchdowns, which tied former Independence High quarterback Joe Cox’s modern-era championship game record. Ferguson completed passes to six different receivers, including LeMay and Kameron Billings, who both exceeded100 yards.
While the offense was filling up the scoreboard, the Bulldogs defense was putting the clamps on Britt’s offense, which trailed 56-14 before twice scoring late.
Linebackers Sean Wiggins (16 tackles) and Peter Kalambayi (12 tackles), defensive ends Jalen Cousar and Darren DuBose (eight tackles apiece), and defensive backs David Moore (six tackles) and Clifton Duck (five tackles) were all standouts on the Bulldogs’ defense.
As Wiggins, who earned Butler’s Outstanding Defensive Player award, walked off the field he had a smile on his face.
“It hasn’t hit me yet,” Wiggins said. “It’s amazing, but it wasn’t a surprise. Ever since the first workout, we told everyone we’re going to (win the championship), so that’s what we had to do.
“We’ve done it like that all year: We jump on (opponents) first and get them to stop fighting. Once that happens, teams aren’t coming back on us.”
As was the case in the championship game, the Bulldogs were rarely tested by their opponents during the season, even though the team wasn’t fully healthy after the season opener. Injuries to Ferguson, defensive back Malachi Hanes, defensive end Grant Polofsky, quarterback/receiver Zach Gross and others presented adversity, but in the end, it hardly seemed to affect Butler.
Example: When defensive back/receiver Channing Stribling went down in the championship game with a knee injury, Duck stepped in and added an interception and a pass breakup.
“With the injuries we had to overcome this year, it was tough,” Hales said. “It says a lot about the depth we had and a lot about the coaches who work to get (the players) ready to step in when we needed them.
“This is a group that needed very little external motivation. They care so much about one another and they wanted to do great things for each other. That’s the biggest thing and the reason we got here.”
The fact that the Bulldogs were the last team standing after all the obstacles they overcame and the expectations they faced – both from external forces and pressure they put on themselves after coming up short last season – brought an extra measure of pride.
“There was pressure,” Ferguson admitted. “But at the same time, we put that pressure on ourselves. We knew we had to get here, and once we were here we had to win it. Now that we’ve done it, we can lay back and enjoy it for a while.”
Glisson said the Bulldogs had one major challenge: making sure they didn’t get in their own way.
“We knew if we didn’t beat ourselves that nobody else could beat us all year because we were all focused on the same thing,” Glisson said. “We knew there was nothing for us to do except win states. Whatever happened along the way was OK, as long as we finished.”
And finally, last Saturday afternoon, they walked out of Kenan Stadium as champions – champions who’ll likely have a place among the greatest Mecklenburg County squads to ever take the field.
The ride was certainly adventurous.
“A lot of people didn’t like us, but we didn’t care,” Kalambayi said. “Really, it was fun. (Defensive coordinator Steve Shaughnessey) told us people don’t like us but if we stuck together we’d come out on top. And in the end, we did.”
Kalmabayi paused before offering a smile.
“It feels great to go out on top,” he said.