Trigg County will again face Butler County Friday night at Perdue Field.
The Bears (7-3, 4-2) finished as the third seed in District 2 by virtue of their loss to Glasgow earlier in the season. However, they did hand top seed Owensboro Catholic their only district loss.
Butler County has made significant strides since Robert Tuck took over as head coach in 2001.
The 2000 team was 0-10 and only 21 players were on the roster at the end of the season.
The Bears improved to 4-6 in Tuck’s first season and made the playoffs in 2002, finishing with a 6-5 record.
Last year, Butler County advanced to the playoffs in consecutive years for the first time since football began at the school in the mid-1960s.
The Bears returned 17 starters from last year’s 7-4 squad, and were hoping to make a run at the district title or host a playoff game. They did neither.
Butler County offers different looks on offense, running some wing-T formations or putting three backs in the backfield in a triangle look to confuse their opponents.
Wildcat head coach Curtis Higgins said the counter-trap play has been the Bears’ most effective running play this year, helping them average 26.5 points a game.
"They run the wing-T offense and have a couple of backs that can get through the line," he said.
The Bears’ leading rusher is Clay Tynes, a 5-9, 165-pound senior, who has rushed for 791 yards and ten touchdowns this year.
Jordan Wallace and Holden Flenner join Tynes in the backfield, with all three backs producing at least one 100-yard rushing game this year.
Tad Phelps, a 5-8, 160-pound senior, is one of the shortest quarterbacks in the region but has proved at times he can throw the football in Butler County’s power offense.
Phelps has completed 34 passes for 601 yards. He has tossed four touchdowns and been picked off four times.
He’s also a threat to run the football, rushing for 613 yards and six touchdowns.
It will be a battle of wills Friday as the Bears average 240 yards rushing a game, while the Wildcats give up just 107 yards on the ground and have given up over 200 yards on the ground just once this year.
"Our defense has been playing awfully good lately. We’ve been flying to the football really well," Higgins said.
The Bears could be the best defensive team Trigg County has seen since their September loss to Fort Campbell.
Butler County gives up just 97 yards rushing and 9.7 points a game.
Only three teams, Owensboro Catholic (20), Ohio County (26), and Hart County (13) have reached double digits in points against the stingy Bear defense.
Trigg County, on the other hand, is averaging 38 points a game and 41.7 over their last four.
Offensive guard Sean McKinney, a 6-2, 235-pound senior, anchors a Butler County line that averages over 230 pounds across.
McKinney is one of 18 seniors on the Butler County roster in what Tuck calls "one of the largest senior classes Butler County has had."
With the players gaining more experience, Tuck has been able to change some of his coaching philosophies. When he first took over as coach, Tuck didn’t allow the team to watch game film of their opponent, instead giving them detailed scouting reports he and the other coaches took from the film.
"We watch film now, but it is usually on Saturdays or after practice. I also let players take tapes home and watch. I don't want to waste practice time watching film. We might watch more film this year since we have more of veteran group returning," Tuck said.
Butler County has ticked off some impressive wins this year, opening the season with an 8-7 win over 3A Logan County (7-3) and a 47-13 win over Hart County, the #4 seed in District 2.
The Bears’ watershed game was a 21-20 win over Owensboro Catholic Sept. 17 that came on Ben Parrigan’s 29-yard field goal at the final horn.
However, the game that kept Butler County from winning the district and hosting a playoff game or two was a 7-6 overtime loss to 3-7 Monroe County two weeks after their upset of Catholic.
Last year, the Wildcats had a tougher-than-expected time with Butler County in the playoffs, needing to score on their final three possessions for a 27-0 shutout, their first in the playoffs since a 20-0 sub-state blanking of Paris in 1989.
The Wildcats held Butler County to zero yards in the first quarter, minus-two in the third quarter, and 194 total yards for the game. The Bears tried to run the football behind their big line, but managed just 131 yards on 48 carries for an average of 2.7 yards per carry.
Trigg County’s defense sacked Phelps seven times in the contest.
The Wildcats couldn’t mount a running game against Butler County, held to 66 yards on 19 carries.
"We should be able to run the football this week. We’ve been mixing in more play action passes and have been throwing more vertically in recent weeks," Higgins said.
While the running game stalled last year against Butler County, Noah Stites completed 15-of-18 passes for a career-high 265 yards and two touchdowns. He was a perfect 8-of-8 for 166 yards in the second half.
Steven Wadlington was held to a season-low 12 rushing yards on eight carries in the game but caught six passes for 180 yards, including an 84-yard touchdown on a screen pass.
Trigg County is 15-12 all-time in the playoffs, including a 4-4 mark under Higgins. The Wildcats are 8-4 in the postseason at Perdue Field and 8-6 in first round games.
Kickoff Friday is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at Perdue Field.
Higgins said all tickets will be five dollars at the gate and that no passes will be honored.