Providence hung with Butler through the first two quarters and even tied the game early in the third before the Bulldogs quite literally ran away with a 42-21 win on Sept. 12.
After entering the halftime intermission trailing Butler 13-7, Providence’s Nathan Mattar’s five-yard touchdown run capped a five-play drive that tie the score at 13 with 9:11 left in the third quarter.
But the Panthers wouldn’t score again until Will Kakavitsas hauled in his eighth catch of the game with 5:13 to play and the Bulldogs up 42-13. Kakavitsas finished with eight catches, 173 yards, two touchdowns and a two-point conversion, but he was one of the lone bright spots for the Panthers, who fell to 1-4 on the season.
“We have played a really tough schedule so far, and if it doesn’t kill you, it’s going to make you better, and that’s where we’re at right now,” Providence coach Brad Bowles said. “We have a lot of sophomores and even some freshmen playing, and they’re getting better. We have guys going both ways. We have some guys beat up but I think we’re getting better. The scoreboard is not always indicative of it.
“We don’t see it as a moral victory. The game wasn’t close enough for that, but we are getting better.”
While the Panthers are focusing on improvement, the Bulldogs didn’t exactly enter the game riding sky high, either.
After consecutive losses to Richmond and Mallard Creek, Butler came in with a 1-2 record and needing a win.
In the first half, junior Jamal Worthy ran for 105 yards and both Bulldog touchdowns and quarterback Christian Peters spread the ball around to five different receivers and threw for 104 yards.
But after Mattar’s touchdown run, the Bulldogs cranked up the ground game.
Worthy scored for a third time on a 25-yard run to cap a nine-play drive on the Bulldogs ensuing drive, and then the rout was on.
Donovan Law intercepted Providence quarterback Mason Boothe on the Panthers next possession, and Quasean Holmes took the first Butler play 65 yards for a touchdown.
Providence would punt on its next two possessions, while Holmes and Worthy would cap drives with touchdowns for the Bulldogs.
Butler’s secret to success was lining junior tackles Trey Richburg and Anthony Carter Jr. on the same side of the ball. Behind them, Holmes and Worthy lined up in tandem with the pair alternating runs from the up and back positions. Holmes finished with 19 carries for 132 yards and two touchdowns on the ground and two receptions for 34 yards, while Worthy caught one pass for nine yards and ran 17 times for 172 yards and four touchdowns as Butler racked up over 400 yards on the ground.
“We ran pretty much the same play every time, and there wasn’t anything they could do about it,” Butler coach Brian Hales said. “You put those two (Richburg and Carter) on the same side and then you have Jamal and (Holmes) behind them and the other one right there at that other back spot. So, you have some meat up there and those are some good football players.
“If we can block it well with the backs that we have they are going to look great, but even if we don’t block it well, they’re going to look great because of what they can do. They can make a lot of things happen on their own, but you put those guys in front of them and that’s what can happen.”
Holmes and Worthy were definitely the focal point of Butler’s offense, but there were others. Peters was 2-3 for 15 yards passing in the second half, but got the Panther defense off balance to start the game.
The offensive line was great and the defense limited Providence to 240 yards of offense and just 112 in the second half.
And the Bulldogs were without N.C. State commit Keyon Lesane, who missed both of the last two games due to suspension stemming from a ball flip in the Mallard Creek game.
“One man goes down and the next man steps us,” Holmes said. “We had a captain go down for the past two weeks, so we had to step up. But for my game, I have to give all of my props to the O-line. They played really well.”
Hales said he’s happy to be done with the four-game opening stretch of the schedule that rivals Providence – who opened the year with East Meck (0-5), Hough (4-0), Myers Park (4-0) Pinecrest (3-1) and Butler – as one of this region’s toughest.
And, he’s ready for conference play, which is scheduled to begin at Rocky River on Sept. 21.
“No doubt it’s a tough stretch,” Hales said. “We are missing a couple of our big D-tackles, and we’ve been without Keyon, but we get him back now. We’ll get (defensive tackle Amaziah) Bell back in a week and the other one back in a couple of weeks, so we’re getting healthier. But also, with them being out, we’ve gotten a lot of kids some reps, so that helps us. I’m excited with where we are right now.”
As for Bowles and the Panthers, 1-4 is not how they planned on opening their schedule.
Boothe has shown signs he can lead the offense well. Caleb Ogunmola is a dangerous option on the outside, although Butler held him to just one catch for 12 yards. Kakavitsas picked up the slack and is a tough cover and Mattar is a bruising back who can handle the load.
Defensively, they are solid. Jack Wilkes is an all-conference linebacker. Jake Henderson was in on a ton of tackles against the Bulldogs and has played well all season at linebacker. Peyton Pounds, Jake Snapp and Gavin Reeder have also all stood out, but something seems missing from this team.
Bowles said he hopes to get it fixed in time for conference play, which kicks off this week at rival Ardrey Kell, who enters the game 0-5 and desperately seeking a win like last year’s 43-13 win.
The Panthers have won four of the past six in the series with the Knights, and Bowles would love to improve that streak.
“We’re going to be off for a few days I guess with this weird hurricane stuff, but we’ll give the kids a few days off and let them regroup and then we’ll get right back at it,” he said. “We hope to be hitting our stride in conference and we open that up with AK next week. Both of us will be jazzed up for that, but we have to continue to get better. We have good senior leaders and we’re going to get better.”