Despite his team’s 41-game losing streak — the longest in the area — High Point Coach Andre Brown entered Saturday’s season opener at Laurel convinced of the same thing he says he always has believed: that a team’s history does not matter nearly as much as its present makeup.
And so when the Eagles stopped Laurel on fourth down in Spartans territory in the first quarter and then capitalized with a 23-yard touchdown run by junior running back Jalen McGill, it started to become apparent that this High Point team cared little about its downtrodden past. High Point prevailed, 38-16, its first victory since November 2007.
“The stands, the supporters, everybody around this team, everyone just felt euphoric,” said Brown, whose team scored more points on Saturday than it did during the entire 2011 season. “I don’t know outside our ranks if anybody thinks that we can do anything. Inside our ranks, we always felt like it would happen, but to make [our fans] proud and doing it away, on someone else’s field, that’s big.”
Butler got the start in Friday’s season-opener at Spalding, and the youngster rewarded Pinkney’s leap of faith, accounting for all three touchdowns in a 20-7 win. He completed 7 of 15 passes for 198 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions and added a 90-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter that clinched the victory for the defending Maryland 2A runners-up.
“I’m comfortable with him back there,” Pinkney said. “He made some mistakes that are expected for a young guy, but he commanded the offense, and he was very composed for his first time out.”
Though Pinkney liked Butler’s dual-threat potential, he wasn’t sure early on if the 6-foot-2, 165-pound newcomer was ready to direct the offense right away. The coach knew Paul could provide that leadership in the huddle, but he worried the honorable mention All-Met linebacker would wear down without at least a few plays off each offensive series.
Ultimately, Butler started out under center with Paul — a physical 5-foot-9, 195-pounder — playing fullback.
In his debut, Butler got plenty of help from senior wide receiver Paul Harris. The Tennessee commit twice broke behind the Cavalier defense on similar double-move routes and Butler found him for a pair of easy touchdowns.
Harris finished with three catches for 144 yards and the two scores, which went for 79 and 52 yards, respectively.
Butler showed his youth with three turnovers — both his interceptions went to Spalding junior Zach Abey — and some struggles executing the triple option. Early on, the quarterback botched a pitch on the option, and Pinkney said Butler made several bad reads among about a dozen option plays the team ran Friday.
But those miscues ultimately helped set up Butler’s game-clinching touchdown run. He had either handed off or pitched the football every time until he decided to keep it himself on a fourth-quarter play that began at the Douglass 10-yard line.
Once Butler broke into the open field, the surprised defense couldn’t catch him and he cruised 90 yards for the score, assuring the Eagles would avenge last season’s loss to the Cavaliers.
“There’s a lot at stake in our region, and I wasn’t going to take any risk on that,” Pinkney said of the decision to start Butler. “We felt like it was the best move for our team. I’m going to put best 11 out on the field, and right now, he’s part of that best 11.”