November 4, 2009

It's one thing to call out your own team - almost every football coach does. But to do it to the opponent? Days before the big game?

Let's just say Charlotte (N.C.) Independence High coach Tom Knotts had plenty to say about Matthews (N.C.) Butler before the undefeated teams meet in the RivalsHigh Game of The Week Friday.

Butler is 10-0 and ranked No. 59 in the RivalsHigh 100 rankings, but Knotts is confident his school (9-0 and ranked No. 65) will come out on top. There's a reason, he says, his team has won 14 of the 16 matchups between the teams.

It's mental makeup.

"In the past, they'd get ahead and they'd lollygag around, or they'd get behind and they'd argue with each other," he said. "It seemed to always be something with them, and I always kind of looked forward to that kind of thing, whether it'd be them taking it easy or quitting, according to what the score is."

To be fair, Knotts said this year's Butler team may not be like those in year's past.

"They seem to be very determined, very focused, and that scares me more than their talent," he said.

He's counting on Independence's history - the school once won 114 straight games against N.C. competition and has won numerous state titles while Butler is still going for its first - to be a difference maker.

"I think there's a little mystique about Independence, you know, playing Independence," he said. "I think Butler probably feels that pressure a little bit that they have never really beat us fair and square, so to speak. I'm sure that's in the back of their mind."

Bulletin board material? Perhaps. But here's the catch: Butler coach Mike Newsome agrees with Knotts' assessment of history.

Newsome said his teams have struggled with Independence's mystique in the past - but he doesn't think history will repeat itself.

"I don't think that's going to be an issue this year," he said. "Our kids are motivated to get this win. I think ... we play a tougher schedule than they have. I think that we have beaten some better teams. I think offensively and defensively, we've just had a better season than what they have, and it's coming down to this last game."

The winner will get the edge in the Southwestern 4A conference as they prepare for the playoffs.

Regardless, this game will be different. The schools, located just five miles apart, usually play at Charlotte's Memorial Stadium, which seats 25,000, to handle the big crowd. This year - due to renovations at the stadium - it will be played at Independence High, which seats 4,200.

Seats are being disbursed via a lottery in which only students, parents, faculty and staff are eligible.

For all the talk by the coaches, the game will be determined on the field. Independence dual-threat quarterback Anthony Carrothers figures to be the key.

Carrothers, a good athlete who has been running the offense since he was a sophomore, is the latest to man a position that has created two recent SEC starters: Chris Leak at Florida and Joe Cox at Georgia.

According to Knotts and Newsome, he also would be getting a lot of attention from college scouts were it not for his height - he's 5-7.

Knotts compared him to Appalachian State's Armanti Edwards, another short quarterback who gained national attention by leading his team to victory over Michigan in 2007.

Knotts, however, said Carrothers is stronger and may be quicker. Last week in a 76-31 victory against Myers Park, Carrothers passed for 439 yards and four touchdowns.

He's also solid in the return game, where he teams with Kierre Brown.

Elsewhere on offense, Nyjee Fleming, a 5-10, 184-pound running back, leads the rushing attack and has gotten ACC offers. The offensive line is led by left guard Ryan Thompson and left tackle Patrick Stewart, both 6-0, who, like Carrothers, aren't getting a lot of attention because they are short for their positions.

"If you look at it, we kind of look like maybe a big JV or a big junior high team," Knotts said. "We're just not big."

The defense is anchored by Courtland Carson, a 6-0, 195-pound outside linebacker, and it could be a question mark after it gave up 31 points and 461 yards last week against 3-8 Myers Park.

Butler's Bulldogs are led on offense by junior quarterback Christian LeMay, who is attracting a lot of attention from major Division I programs.

LeMay is primarily a pro-style quarterback, but he can run as well. Last week, he passed for four touchdowns in the first half in a 59-14 victory over South Mecklenburg.

LeMay's stats are impressive (94 completions on 134 attempts for 1,746 yards), especially his touchdown-to-interception ratio of 25:1. That's right - one interception and that was on a tipped ball.

LeMay has a lot of weapons from which to choose, including two-star wide receiver Nate Charest and halfback Anthony Short, who is leading the team in receiving and return yards. Newsome said he was probably the best player in Charlotte. Two running backs, Jahwan Edwards and Deion Walker, lead the rushing attack.

The defense is anchored by defensive ends B.J. Woodley and Colin Parsons, outside linebacker Kris Frost, and junior defensive back Mark Bridges.

Like Independence, it's not a team with a lot of stars by their names, but Newsome said it has a lot of talent that played behind great players as juniors and didn't get on the recruiting radar screen until this year. Meanwhile, his junior class is loaded.

"I'm coaching the Shrine Bowl (North Carolina's all-star game), and I've seen some guys that are rated four-star, five-star athletes that couldn't play for my high school team," he said. "They couldn't play for my team now."

GAME OF THE WEEK: No. 65 Independence (NC) vs. No. 59 Butler (NC)
KEY TO THE GAME: Independence Patriots
Independence The Patriots know what they have on offense behind QB Anthony Carrothers, what they have on defense may be the difference. The unit, which gave up 31 points last week, doesn't figure to get any help from Butler quarterback Chris LeMay, who has thrown only one interception this season.
KEY TO THE GAME: Butler Bulldogs
Butler Three things stand out: it will have to stop Carrothers, it will have to slow Independence's vaunted return game and it will have to have someone other than QB Chris LeMay step up on offense. Running back Anthony Short, who has been a weapon all year long, appears to be the X factor.
Can-do attitude
Butler has only beaten Independence twice in sixteen tries, but one of those (in 2007) snapped Independence's 114-game in-state winning streak.
RivalsHigh Game of the Week Prediction. 2009 record (8-3)
It's not the history between the schools (Independence has dominated) and it's certainly not the quarterbacks (Anthony Carrothers and Chris LeMay are both star players). It's not even the mystique. This game may come down to home-field advantage. Always pick the host in a toss-up game. Independence 31, Butler 28



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