PERRY TWP. – Perry intercepted four passes and drew up just enough offense to start the new year on a positive note Friday night at Perry Stadium. The Panthers outlasted visiting Vandalia Butler 24-14, showcasing execution in all three phases of the game in the process.
“(Butler) has a good, skilled team,” Perry coach Keith Wakefield said after the win. “We gave them too many big plays and that hurt us. They just out-jumped us to the ball a couple of times. But it’s Week 1 and we’ll take it.”
Perry never trailed in the game but had to fight all 48 minutes to put away the Aviators, a Dayton-area school which traveled over three hours and nearly 200 miles to get to the game. Mason Brown’s 39-yard field goal with 2:01 to play put the game away, giving the Panthers a 10-point lead.
The kick came just moments after Butler cut the game to 21-14 and nearly recovered an onside kick.
“That’s a really good football team over at Perry,” Butler coach Nathan Hyatt said. “We missed some plays and had a couple of breaks go against us, but we didn’t quit. I’m really proud of our guys.”
After nearly an entire half of dominant defense, Perry cashed in the first points of the game with just 16 seconds to play before halftime. Panthers’ quarterback Max Baker found Andy Price in the back of the end zone for a 9-yard score, giving Perry instant momentum heading into the locker room.
Baker went 4-of-4 for 46 yards during the scoring drive, three of those were completions to Price. However, the junior quarterback wouldn’t complete another pass the rest of the evening.
The Panthers, who punted three times and threw an interception on their first four possessions of the night, tallied 55 total yards in just 55 seconds to take the 7-0 halftime lead.
“I told (Baker) that if no one was open then throw it out of bounds,” Wakefield said. “Andy went into the corner and then came back out and found a spot. That was a big play.”
After play resumed, Butler quarterback Tyler Burley threw an interception on just the third play of the second half to give Perry good field position for its second scoring drive of the night. Junior defensive back Robbie Kirchner made a break on the ball and returned the takeaway down to the Aviator 15. Perry’s Devon Morgan scored from a yard out a few plays later, giving the Panthers a 14-0 lead.
Morgan finished with 69 yards on 16 carries and the touchdown.
Burley threw another interception on Butler’s next possession, too, only this time his defense would back him up. On the very next play, Aviator defender Jack Mitchell picked off Baker for the second time in the game to give the ball right back to the visitors.
That defensive breakthrough gave the Aviators some life, which led to the team finding the scoreboard for the first time. Butler went 73 yards on just four plays, capped off by a 25-yard touchdown run by Logan Flatt to make it 14-7 with 6:28 to go in the third quarter.
But Perry had an answer.
After the clock shifted to the fourth quarter, Panther junior fullback Sir Elliott took over. The 5-foot-10, 220-pounder pounded his way to end zone with just 11:07 to play in the game, scoring on a 2-yard plunge and giving Perry a 21-7 advantage.
Elliott rushed the ball nine times – all in the second half – for 44 yards and a score.
“I should have gone to him sooner,” Wakefield said. “He runs it hard and that really helped.”
Still, Butler tried to claw back. The Aviators converted a third-and-18 on their own 11 after Burley threw it up to Trey Sanders for a 57-yard gain to keep the team in the game.
Sanders finished with five catches for 151 yards in the loss.
Moments later, Flatt scored for the second time, cutting the deficit to just seven again. But Butler couldn’t come up with an onside kick, which led to Perry closing the game out with help from Brown’s leg.
Then, Burley threw his fourth and final interception to Perry’s Dominick Bowman – his second of the night – with under a minute to play. The senior signal-caller finished 16-of-29 for 215 yards.
“The thing that did us in was the turnovers,” Hyatt said. “My quarterback hasn’t played a game there since eighth grade. His first game is over here in front of all of these people. He’s going to get better.”
Despite the loss, Butler outgained Perry 318-260.
Joe Mitchin is a sports writer for The Independent in Massillon. Follow him on Twitter @jmitchinINDE.