VANDALIA — Butler and Xenia came in to Friday’s game with similar game plans – run the ball, run the clock, rely on defense, and grind out a win.
Ultimately, that strategy paid off for Butler after a late Xenia touchdown forced overtime.
After scoring on three straight runs by Ryan Martin, the Aviators led 13-7 after a failed extra point. It didn’t matter, however, as Butler’s defense forced the Buccaneers into a fourth down and 10 from their own 20 to decide the game. As it had most of the night, Butler’s defensive line overwhelmed Xenia’s offense to sack quarterback Christian Severt to end the game in dramatic fashion.
The win lifted the Aviators to 3-2 on the season and, more importantly, significantly boosted Butler’s playoff hopes. Xenia fell to 3-2 overall.
“They battled tonight, they took this game personal tonight,” said Butler head coach John Puckett. “They fought and fought, I liked our offensive game plan to just grind it out and don’t do anything stupid. Grind it, grind it, grind it, defensively we wanted to match their force with force. We knew they would come off the ball well and play physical and we wanted to beat on them. Our guys kept coming.”
“They are a good football team,” said Xenia head coach Trace Smitherman. “We had our hands full, and we can’t make mistakes there. Hats off to them – they were ready to play.”
The game was a battle of defense and field position from the start. Both teams forced a 3-and out to open the contest with Butler being the first to cross into the opposing side of the field late in the first quarter. The Aviators were forced to punt and had Xenia in a deep hole at their own 10-yard line but the Buccs methodically moved out to midfield.
Facing a fourth down at Butler’s 42-yard line, Xenia looked as if they had a big play but at the last second Gavin Casella batted the ball away from a Xenia receiver to force the Bucs to turn the ball over on downs.
After forcing another Butler punt, Xenia mounted its best drive of the game after starting at their own 20-yard line. The drive was aided by a big run by Sincere Wells and a late hit by the Aviators out of bounds. On third and goal, however, the Aviators forced a Xenia fumble which was recovered by Butler’s Bobby Buckler in the end zone for a touchback.
“We got it moving there, but in a tight ball game, an inch here or an inch there…they (Butler) played a heck of a football game and came out on top,” said Smitherman.
“They (Xenia) runs the option attack so well, and their fullback is really good,” said Puckett. “Our guys kept fighting – I don’t know what else to say, they just fought all night. I’d rather be lucky than good at times. We called blitz on the goal line and all of a sudden the ball is out – our guy was there and their guy was there – and we came out with it.”
The Aviators capitalized on the Xenia error by flipping the field. Butler moved the ball to midfield, but their drive stalled forcing a punt. It was downed at the 13-yard line. Three plays later, Xenia punted and the ball was downed at Xenia’s 34-yard line.
After gaining four yards on first down, Butler quarterback Mason Motter scrambled as time expired in the half and found Blake Ross for a 30-yard touchdown pass in the front left corner of the end zone. Andrew Boren kicked the extra point and the Aviators took a 7-0 lead, and seemingly, the momentum, into the locker room at half.
The defensive struggle continued in the second half with neither team able to muster much offense, but when Butler turned the ball over on downs at the Xenia 41-yard line with 7:43 to play, the Bucs had new life.
After a short gain on first down, Xenia took advantage of a lucky bounce to get an offensive spark. Despite the ball being tipped at the line of scrimmage, Severt connected with receiver Kevin Johnson to move the ball into Aviator territory.
A key defensive holding penalty on third down kept the drive alive long enough for Wells to score from nine yards out with 5:09 to play to tie the score at 7-7.
The Bucs forced a three-and-out for the Aviators, but after driving to the Butler 22-yard line, they turned the ball over on downs after an incomplete pass on fourth-and four with 0:06 on the clock.
Content to settle for overtime, Motter took a knee.
Xenia won the toss and elected to play defense first, and the Aviators fed the Bucs a steady dose of Ryan Martin up the middle. After a short gain on first down, Martin got the Aviators to third and inches. From there, a hole opened and he scampered into the end zone virtually untouched for what would prove to be the game winning score.
Xenia will travel to Springfield (5-0) in Week 6 while the Aviators will travel to Greenville (3-2).
“We have Springfield next week and we will have our hands full,” said Smitherman. “We have to be ready to go.”
“The best thing I can say about the leadership of this football team is they are gritty, they are tough kids,” said Puckett. “When we got embarrassed at Harrison they got mad. We got embarrassed against Northmont because of little things they weren’t doing. They came back this week and worked their tails off. I’m their third head coach, but these kids know how to survive and how to work hard.”
Reach Darrell Wacker at (937) 684-8983 or on Twitter @VandaliaDrummer.