HARRISON — The Butler Aviators traveled to Harrison on Friday night to take on the tradition-rich Wildcats in the first of a two-game series. The Wildcats proved to be inhospitable hosts as they jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first period en route to a 42-19 victory in the season opener for both squads.
“I really like the way we competed in the second half,” said John Puckett, the Butler coach who made his head-coaching debut on Friday. “Our kids cared – a lot. I think they tried so hard to be successful that it had them more result-oriented instead of concentrating and focusing on what their assignment was.”
Butler quarterback Mason Motter completed 9-of-20 passes for 159 yards and a pair of touchdowns, but the Aviator offense couldn’t keep up with the 547 yards of total offense posted by Harrison. The Wildcats dominated the time of possession by a more than 2-1 advantage while racking up 392 yards through the air and 155 yards on the ground.
Harrison took the lead for good midway through the first quarter on a three-yard run by quarterback Connor Kinnett. Kinnett would go on to account for six touchdowns and a combined 467 yards through the air and on the ground.
Puckett said Kinnett’s yardage wasn’t flashy and often came as the result of missed tackles by the Aviators.
“It was a lot more about what we did than about what they did,” Puckett said. “We had 61 missed tackles – that is pretty poor. It was poor technique on our part. There were 10 yard plays that turned into 60 yards because we had three missed tackles. The poor tackling is on me – that’s bad coaching on my part. There is some disconnect between what I’m saying and they are hearing and I have to coach it better.”
Levi Mitchell took a 26-yard scoring pass from Kinnett with 4:37 to play in the first quarter for a 14-0 lead and it appeared the Wildcats were in firm command.
The Aviators struck back less than a minute later when Motter connected with Bryant Johnson for an 83-yard touchdown pass that halved Harrison’s lead at 14-7.
The Wildcats scored twice more before intermission to take a 28-7 lead at the half.
Harrison quashed any hope of a Butler rebound with another touchdown with 3:56 to play in the third period to take a 35-7 lead.
Less than a minute later, though, Ryan Martin breathed new life into the Aviators with a two-yard touchdown pass.
Butler opened the final quarter with a 42-yard scoring strike from Motter to Ryan Wilson to get within two scores at 35-19, but Harrison tacked on another score with 5:08 to play that set the final score at 42-19.
“There was no quit in any of our guys,” said Puckett. “We settled in and tackled better. The kids kept competing.”
Ryan Martin led all rushers with 101 yards on 13 attempts for an average of nearly eight yards per carry. Wilson caught four passes for a total of 63 yards and a touchdown while Johnson caught two for 86 yards and a score. Johnson also returned three kickoff returns for a total of 125 yards.
“Ryan is tough, he has worked really hard all spring and summer,” Puckett said. “He just kept fighting. We just couldn’t get him enough touches.”
Butler (0-1) will return to action on Friday with a road trip to Tecumseh, a 31-0 winner over Fairborn in Week 1. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
“I’m excited about this week,” said Puckett. “Tecumseh is much improved, they have a big back that runs the ball well, their offensive line comes off the ball well, they are a much better football team this year compared to last at least with that I’ve seen on film. But we can’t control that – we have to get off blocks better, we’ve got to get off the ball better. We had a great workout and film session this morning. We were 1-0 today and we are going to be 1-0 on Monday. The only thing we lost last night was an undefeated season.”
Reach Darrell Wacker at (937) 684-8983 or on Twitter @VandaliaDrummer.