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November 9, 2011

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Dallas Jackson is the Senior Analyst for RivalsHigh. Email him your question, comment or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.

There was a time when Charlotte (N.C.) Independence beat everyone. And we mean everyone, as its famous 109-game winning streak attests.

Now?

It just wants to beat rival Matthews (N.C.) Butler.

Independence, a national power almost every year since the turn of the century, slipped a year ago in its first season under head coach Bill Geiler - finishing the year with an unthinkable 3-8 record.

This year, it's back to playing like the Independence of old as it will take a 10-2 record into its second-round playoff game with Butler - a team it has lost to in their last four meetings.

It is the RivalsHigh Game of the Week.

"It's like the 'old champs' versus the 'current champ'," Deana King, publisher of NCPreps.com, said.

Indeed. Butler's rise coincided with Independence's fall. The Bulldogs have won the past two Class 4A state titles.

"Butler had been a bridesmaid for several years," King said. "After it won the state title in 2009 it put people on notice."

Butler comes into the game ranked No. 2 in the state and No. 78 in the latest RivalsHigh 100.

And while Independence took a step back for one season when it lost Tommy Knotts, Butler has managed to replace Mike Newsome without a problem.

"Offensive coordinator Brian Hales was named head coach and they are doing the same things they have done for years," she said. "Butler is very good offensive team with lots of skill kids. The defense is a very stingy unit that plays aggressive. "

It is lead by a great group of juniors: quarterback Riley Ferguson, receiver Uriah LeMay, and linebacker Peter Kalambayi.

The trio was part of an amazing team last year, but each year is different. And unlike the last two, this team has been tested more frequently.

The usually high-octane Bulldogs have been saddled with some tough game recently: a 43-40 win over Charlotte (N.C.) Ardrey Kell and its 38-26 Southwestern Conference Title game win over Independence among them.

The rally cry at Butler is that those games are behind them and Butler is focused on the task at hand.

"It's definitely going to motivate us a little more because it's Independence," Ferguson told the Charlotte Observer. "But we don't need any more motivation because this is the playoffs, and we are going to go out and play Butler football no matter who we are playing."

Butler has won 41 of its last 42 games. But don't expect this one to be easy.

Geiler said his team will be ready.

"Absolutely we're gonna be," he told the paper. "I'm proud of our guys."

He's got some good ones.

Junior receiver Dequan Barnes is the headliner but quarterback Evan Guest has been taking advantage having a solid season and also boosting the stock of senior receiver Austin Duke.

The trio was close to capitalizing on several big plays that could have turned the earlier meeting and the defense against the run has seemed to improve each week.

It will need a solid game to knock off the Bulldogs.

If it is able to pull the upset, everyone in the nation will know that Independence - once again- is able to beat anyone.

National GOTW
No. 78 Butler vs. Independence
RIVALS HIGH KEY PLAYERS

BUTLER
WR Uriah LeMay (6-2/188, Jr.)
QB Riley Ferguson (6-2/190, Jr.)
LB Peter Kalambayi (6-2/218, Jr.)
WR Kam Billings (6-2/177, Jr.)
INDEPENDENCE
QB Evan Guest (6-3/185, Sr.)
LB Jimmy Gipson (6-1/239, Sr.)
WR Austin Duke (5-8/156, Sr.)

When: Friday Nov. 11, 7:00
Last meeting: Oct. 28, 2011 - Butler won, 38-26
Rankings: Butler (11-1), No. 2 in North Carolina
Independence: (10-2), No. 8 in North Carolina

Butler wins if: The secondary performs well. This could be a little over simplified since the team is also banged up with injuries (including not having star LB Peter Kalambayi in the first playoff game). But as much of an impact as the linebacker could have, the secondary has given up a lot of big plays and it nearly cost it a game against Ardrey Kell. With Independence's passing attack balanced, efficient and explosive, the Butler secondary will need to be ready to play on Friday night.

Independence wins if: The secondary performs well. This is not oversimplified. Butler was more of a power run team last year than it is this year and it relies a little more on Ferguson and LeMay in crunch time. If the Patriots secondary is able to slow down the passing game and force the Bulldogs to make long sustained drives on the ground, it could be a long day. And it could help Independence pull out the win.

Prediction: The final score in the last game was a little deceiving as both teams missed on some key plays. But the Patriots seemed to have taken away more positives from the outcome of a 12-point loss. Their confidence will be high. Butler is the better team, but it is still young and lost a lot of talent from last year. The national ranking right now could be more based on reputation than performance and this contest will go a long way to determining that. Butler has a state title in its sights and this game is a step toward it. Expect a similar score but a better performance.
- Butler 37, Independence 24.

Game of the Week Predictions: 8-4 (10-5 in '10, '09, and '08)



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