VANDALIA — If fans didn’t look at the scoreboard going into halftime, most would have thought the Butler Aviators held a sizeable advantage over the visiting Badin Rams in their first round playoff match-up.
Unfortunately, the scoreboard is the only stat that matters. Despite dominating the Rams in most statistical categories, the Aviators couldn’t overcome five interceptions and a special teams breakdown that led to a 33-22 victory by Badin.
Butler, the #4 seed in Division III, Region 12, finished the season at 6-5 while Badin, the #5 seed, improved to 8-3 and advance to face top seed Alter in the regional semifinals.
“We couldn’t get in a rhythm offensively all night,” said Butler head coach John Puckett. “When you turn the ball over five times and give up a special teams touchdown and a defensive touchdown you don’t deserve to win, and that’s the difference in the game..”
Friday’s game was all Butler early.
Badin’s took the opening kickoff and, after a controversial play that resulted in the Rams keeping the ball after an apparent fumble, Butler’s Bryan Johnson intercepted a pass that gave the Aviators possession at the Badin 40 yard line.
Butler quarterback Mason Motter connected with Johnson for 12 yards down to the 28 on the very next play but a holding call would prove costly. Another pass from Motter to Johnson got the Aviators back to the original line of scrimmage but a loss on third down forced the Aviators to punt.
Butler’s defense stood tall and a third down sack pinned the Rams to their own 2 yard line that forced them to punt. Butler took over at the 31 to set up their first score.
On first down, Ryan Martin, who finished the game with 113 yards and a score, ran for 21 yards to the Badin 10. Martin got seven more yards on first and goal, but it was Motter who finished the drive off from a yard out with 4:02 to play in the first quarter. Andrew Boren kicked the extra point and the Aviators led 7-0.
After forcing a three and out and a short Badin punt, Martin’s 24 yard return to the Badin 17 yard line had the Aviators in prime position to go up by two scores. Unfortunately, a Badin interception at the three yard line was returned to the 41 to turn the Aviators away.
“I thought that first interception really took the air out of us,” said Puckett. “We were completely dominating the game and getting ready to go up 14-0 and end up with nothing. That really took the wind out of us.”
Butler’s defense stood tall again, however, and forced another three and out. After taking over on their own 40 yard line, the Aviators used 12 plays to march down to the Badin 7-yard line before the drive stalled. Boren’s 24-yard field goal kept Butler from coming up empty handed, though, and the Aviators led 10-0.
A squib kick and return set Badin up on the Aviators side of the field on their next possession, and big runs by Davon Hartmann-Starks and Alex Delong set up a Delong score from 9 yards out to give Badin their first points.
Special teams came back to haunt the Aviators on their next possession after a punt by Boren was returned 75 yards for a touchdown that gave Badin their first lead at 13-10, which would hold until intermission after another Butler mistake.
“Special teams have been our Achilles heel all season,” said Puckett. “We haven’t been good all season. It was a low kick which is hard to cover and we didn’t tackle well.”
After taking over at their own 19 yard line following the kickoff, the Aviators were forced to punt. The kick was dropped by the Ram receiver and Butler’s Nick Coyle jumped on the loose ball at the Badin 40 yard line to retain possession for the Aviators. Butler took advantage and drove to the 20 yard line, but the Rams intercepted a ball intended for Johnson in the end zone to preserve their lead.
Butler took the opening kickoff of the second half and used 11 plays to march 61 yards before Motter scored from 17 yards out to reclaim the lead 16-13.
The lead was short lived as Badin took the kickoff back to Butler’s 40 yard line. Aided by a pair of penalties, including an encroachment call on 4th and 2 at the Butler 11, the Rams took the lead for good with 3:29 to play in the third quarter.
Following another interception, Badin’s Hartmann-Starks ran for 55 yards and then caught a touchdown pass from 30 yards out to take a 27-16 lead.
A pick-6 by Luke Tabler with a 25-yard return for a score ensured the Aviators would not mount a comeback despite a late touchdown by Martin from 2 yards out to set the final score.
Despite a season full of key injuries, including the loss of Johnson and Quentin Glover for several games and the loss of Mike Masters, Puckett said the Aviators could have achieved more.
“I was one of the few who thought we could win 7 or 8 games,” said Puckett. “I thought the only thing missing from last year’s film was the kids not playing hard. From day one we talked about how it wasn’t what we did but how we did it, and the senior class bought in and worked their tails off from January on. All summer the kept working and working and played hard. They played hard tonight but for some reason we couldn’t get out of our own way. I feel bad for the seniors that its over for them.”
Reach Darrell Wacker at (937) 684-8983 or on Twitter @VandaliaDrummer.