“Joey! Joey! Joey!”
The chant was loud and long and echoed off the walls of the Blue Springs High School locker room following a 63-21 Class 6 District 4 final win over Lee's Summit at Peve Stadium Friday night.
The win sets up a state semifinal game next Friday at Eureka, a 47-20 winner over Lafayette-Wildwood.
“This game's for Joey,” said Simone Award winning running back Dalvin Warmack, referring to the Wildcats’ longtime inspirational leader, Joey Butler, who is in the final days of a long battle with cancer. “A team with less focus would have been distracted by what's happened to Joey, but we used it as inspiration. We're playing for our team, our school, our community and for Joey!”
As the noisy locker room celebrated another big win, players discussed the importance of focus and dedicating the game to Butler, who was the pastor at Gateway Church until he was forced to resign earlier this year because of his illness.
“I've only been here one year,” said junior quarterback Ian Brown, who was 5-of-9 for 226 yards and three touchdowns, “but I know the impact Joey has had on this team. This win was for Joey. We dedicated the game to him, and wanted to make sure he enjoyed it.”
Wildcats coach Kelly Donohoe, who has kept in touch with the Butler family, said Joey has been in and out of consciousness, but did watch the big Friday night victory, which ended with the Blue Springs student cheering section chanting “Joey Butler! Joey Butler! Joey Butler!”
“I can't even explain what Joey means to us and what it means to me and everyone on the team to dedicate this game to Joey and play like we did tonight,” said linebacker Gunnar Strickland, whose interception led to a 47-yard touchdown pass from Brown to Kaleb Prewett.
“The difference between us and other teams is that we stayed focused, even though we know what Joey is going through. I don't know if you saw all our tape (on wrists, shoes and ankles), but we all had something dedicated to Joey.”
“JOEY” was written in block letters on Strickland's wrist bands.
“It's always special to win, but to win like this in a game that we dedicated to Joey made it even more special,” Strickland added.
The 12-0 Wildcats wasted no time in putting the game away with a 28-point first quarter. After an inadvertent kneel-down by the Lee’s Summit punter deep in Tiger territory gave the ball to Blue Springs, Warmack (11 carries for 138 yards and three touchdowns) scored on a 2-yard run at 9:04 and the rout was on.
Lee's Summit fumbled away its next possession, then later got stuffed by Khalil Davis when it tried to convert on fourth-and-1 from its 25, and Warmack made the Tigers pay with a 24-yard touchdown run.
Following Strickland's interception, Brown and Prewett hooked up for the 47-yard bomb, and with no time showing on the first-quarter clock Warmack rushed for a 45-yard score.
“We're playing so well right now, in all phases of the game,” Donohoe said. “I didn't expect a game like this, I really didn't. That's a good team that came into this game with a 10-1 record, and our guys rose to the occasion.”
The Tigers finish the season with a 10-2 record, with both losses coming against Blue Springs by a combined score of 112-28.
When asked about Butler's influence on the game, Donohoe simply said, “Joey has been our inspirational leader since I've been here, and he always said to go out and play with passion, and our guys did that tonight.”
Blue Springs built its halftime lead to 56-14 on an Elijah Lee blocked punt that Prewett returned for a 27-yard score, a 34-yard return of a Cobi Bissell-caused fumble for a score by Carlos Davis, a 64-yard pass to Prewett, a 1-yard Warmack run and a 71-yard bomb to Prewett.
“It was a big night all the way around, and it was all for Joey,” said Prewett, who scored on all three of his receptions for 188 yards to go along with his return of the blocked punt for a TD. “We're playing so well in all phases of the game. Somehow, we manage to play better each week.
“It's just so much fun to go out and play like we've been playing the past few weeks. This team is on a mission.”
The Wildcats played a variety of reserve players in the second half, and on his only carry of the night Bissell scored on an 80-yard run on the first snap of the half to cap a night of 63 points and 482 yards of total offense.
Lee's Summit quarterback Drew Lock, who has drawn much Division I interest, completed 16-of-33 passes for 156 yards with two interceptions. Running back Casey Slaughter had 65 yards and a score on 18 carries. Caymen Metcalf scored on a 30-yard run and Alonzo Page had a 2-yard TD run for the Tigers.