WILMINGTON – After relatively easy wins in the first two weeks of the season, Butler football coach Greg Bush knew his team would be tested at Wilmington in week three.
He was right. With a long bus ride, all the hoopla surrounding Wilmington’s re-opening of Alumni Stadium, and a talented football team on the other side of the line of scrimmage, the Aviators had all they could handle but ultimately came out with a 29-20 win over the Hurricane.
The win moves Butler to 3-0 on the season, their best start in at least 10 seasons according to the Greater Western Ohio Conference web site.
This win wasn’t easy, however. Neither team could get much offense going on their first possessions of the game, and it was ultimately a defensive play by the Hurricane that set up Butler’s first score.
“Turnovers were the key tonight,” said Butler head coach Greg Bush. “We didn’t always capitalize on them, but they saved us. Wilmington is a good football team and they are going to win some ballgames.”
After intercepting a Chandler Craine pass, the Huricane were backed up to their 7-yard line. After a penalty and just a few yards, Wilmington was forced to punt at the 13-yard line. A bad snap sent the ball past the kicker and into the end zone for a safety and a 2-0 lead.
The Hurricane finally found some success midway through the second quarter after taking over at their own 38-yard line. Wilmington kept the ball on the ground and the combination of mobile quarterback Matt Credit and Marlyn Frisco marched 66 yards to take a 7-2 lead.
Butler responded immediately and, aided by a 15-yard late hit penalty against the Hurricane, Chandler Craine connected with Matt Grossman on a seven yard touchdown pass with 3:44 left in the first half. Andrew Boren kicked the extra point, and Butler led 9-7, a lead they carried into halftime thanks to an interception by Zach Jackson in the end zone.
Butler took the ball to start the second half and started out what looked to be a promising drive, but after marching to the Wimington 29 yard line, the drive stalled, and the Hurricane took over on downs.
Then came the play of the game.
On first down, Wilmington elected to run. Nic Martin wrapped the runner who kept trying to run. Martin forced the ball loose and Noah Ballard picked up the ball and returned it 28 yards for a touchdown. Boren hit the extra point to live the Aviators to a 16-7 lead.
The Hurricane responded with a drive of their own that took advantage of a fake punt that gained 27 yards and capped off by a 7-yard touchdown run by Frisco to cut Butler’s advantage to 16-14.
Butler wasted no time in getting more distance from the stubborn Hurricane as they took advantage of a good kick off return by Torin Fletcher out to the 40 yard line. The Aviators fed Wilmington a steady dose of Nic Martin, who they had no answer for, which opened up the passing lanes for a 33-yard touchdown pass from Craine to Treylann Sanders with 3:02 to play in the third quarter.
Martin led all rushers with 131 yards on 22 carries.
Butler tried a two point conversion to get up two scores, but the run by Dustin Lewis failed and the score stayed at 22-14.
“Nic (Martin) ran the ball well, (Logan) Flatt ran the ball well, and the line blocked well,” said Bush. “Chandler hit a couple of nice passes when we needed it. It wasn’t textbook, but he was certainly good enough and then some. Wilmington played well defensively.”
Wilmington made one more attempt at closing the gap on an 18-yard touchdown pass with 4:48 to play. That cut the score to 22-20, and then the Hurricane tried to get Butler to mishandle the ensuing kickoff, but Logan Flatt was able to recover the ball.
Butler took over and kept the ball on the ground to chew up the clock. Martin took four straight hand-offs to gain a first down, and Craine connected with Tyler Burley on a short slant play.
Wilmington called time out on third and one, and Martin picked up the first down, but then Flatt erased any hope for the Hurricane when he broke free for a 33 yard touchdown up the middle. Boren added the extra point and the Aviators had a 29-20 lead, which would require two scores to overcome.
Flatt had 90 yards on nine carries and a touchdown.
Wilmington put up a fight, and moved down field in the closing seconds of the game, but Zach Jackson intercepted a pass inside the five that allowed the Aviators to kneel out the remaining time.
“Tonight, they made us fight to the end, and, unlike maybe a year ago, we rose to the challenge,” said Bush. “Throughout the game, I never saw our kids drop their heads in discouragement. You have to continue to improve. After we won our first two games as big as we did, that makes it hard to prepare to get better. The kids know now, after tonight, that we have to practice better to be in the game.
“We got here late due to traffic, they had all the festivities going on for the dedication of their stadium, half time was extended, then it wasn’t, then it was again, and lots of things were different tonight. Those things could have been a distraction, and I think they were a bit of a distraction, but not enough for us to lose.”
The Aviators gained 224 yards on the ground and 103 through the air. Craine completed 8-of-26 passes for yards and two touchdowns with an interception. Tyler Burley and Torin Fletcher caught two passes each.
The Aviators will return to action Friday night as the travel to Xenia for a Greater Western Ohio Conference crossover game. Kick off is set for 7 p.m. at Cox Stadium.
Reach Darrell Wacker at 937-684-8983 or on Twitter @VandaliaDrummer.