Malcolm X. Shabazz High School football team rolls past Butler to win North 2, Group 1 sectional championship

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

BUTLER, NJ — The Malcolm X. Shabazz High School football team won the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association’s North Jersey, Section 2, Group 1 state championship.

The Shabazz Bulldogs defeated the Butler High School Bulldogs, 40-13, in the championship game on Friday night, Nov. 10, at Butler. Shabazz improved to 8-3. Butler moved to 9-2.

It’s not often when two opposing teams competing for the next step in the playoffs have the same mascots, but hail from two different locations. These two teams also share single yellow gold and white piping in their uniforms, but they also resemble the San Diego Chargers and Pittsburgh Steelers of the National Football League. The resemblance is uncanny for the Malcolm X Shabazz High School Bulldogs, their matte black helmets, away white uniforms with yellow gold piping and black numbering. Much is to be said about Butler’s look, who came into the game wearing their traditional Charger Dark Powder Blue Jerseys with yellow gold numbers and white piping. But the road for these two squads was all but challenging as they are both looking forward to cementing their spot in the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association North Group 1 Regional Championships next week. It was a big fight between these two Bulldog teams who played their hearts out at Butler Board of Education Athletic Complex in Butler, N.J. 

The Newark-based Shabazz Bulldogs made the near hour-long ride north through the Route 24 and I-287 corridors into the center of Passaic County in the upper Pompton Valley area to take on the top-seeded Butler Bulldogs. For Shabazz they are surging at the right time as they only dropped three games this season in tight defensive struggles. Of the three games, one of them would later turn into a rematch and retribution in the first round of the playoffs two weeks ago. Shabazz is also hailing out of the Super Football Conference–National Red Division and has a playoff pedigree that rivals its competitor. Butler, on the other hand, has enjoyed homefield advantage, taking out two Essex County contenders and close rivals of Shabazz’s. Butler, a member of the North Jersey Interscholastic Conference, and has only one loss to this year’s resume to conference rival Park Ridge while running through their schedule with five of their games ending in blow out fashion. The stage was set for a big Bulldog fight to see who had the bigger bite and the right to advance in the playoffs.

The game kicked off under the lights on Butler’s new custom powder blue turf with Shabazz taking the game’s opening kickoff and going three-and-out on their first possession. The two squads would trade three punts between them before someone blinked. Butler would be the first to do so on Shabazz’s second three-and-out of the first quarter and the third punt of the third punt of the game. Butler would fumble the ensuing punt on the own 48 yard-line where Shabazz would pounce on the ball and make Butler pay for their costly mistake with 3:02 remaining in the opening quarter. Helped by a hefty personal foul penalty of the 15-yard variety, Shabazz, led by QB Nazir Smith; Running backs Davieon Porter, Bi’Shay Sanders, Rahmir Jackson, Zaiden McDonald, and wide receivers Nayad Walker, Kezah Hall, Nasir Gaines and Omari Gaines, along with standout lineman Judah Pruitt, would make quick work of the five-play drive where Sanders would dash the short 7 yards for the game’s first touchdown with no time on the clock to close out the first quarter after the successful scrambling 2-point conversion pass from Nasir Gaines to Karreim Coston and the 8-0 lead. 

Butler, led by QB Bobby Battipede; running backs Kyle Perry and Jayden DiNatale; wide receiver Cameron Pittman, and TE Peter Calvi, would punt for their second time in the game giving Shabazz good field position from their own 45-yard line. Smith set up a 5-play, 55-yard drive that featured two passing completions to McDonald and Walker. But it would be McDonald who would break free of the chain for a 36-yard house call with 8:00 left in the half to give Shabazz the 14-0 edge. Butler would attempt to mount a balanced attack, but Shabazz flexed their defensive prowess when LB Lennox Bonsu would sky like he’s going up for a contested rebound in basketball to stick his big paw up bringing down the first turnover of the game. Although Shabazz would punt the ball away four plays later, Butler once again would play the clock utilizing their running finesse while dodging a near pick-6 to close out the first half. 

With the ball still in their possession to start the second half, Butler fed on the momentum they had in the first half, by starting at their own 38-yard line. Butler QB Bobby Battipede led an 11-play, 62-yard march by sending RB Kyle Perry on a methodical run while finding his two favorite targets in Pittman and Calvi through the air for big gains. But Perry would find an opening and sprinted the remaining 23 yards up the powder blue-and-goid field for Butler’s first score of the game, cutting into Shabazz’s cushion 14-6 with 5:42 left in the third quarter. Shabazz’s Nazir Smith was worried, as he fed the ball to his running back committee four out of times, completing one pass to Walker for 4 yards. But the big back-breaking play on that drive was when Daveion Porter took the ball off his left side near the Butler sideline. He was met just beyond the line of scrimmage and was presumed to be down but would completely hit his power burst button and roll off the Butler defender for jaw dropping 52-yard house call to go up 20-6 with 2:06 left in the third quarter. Butler would find an answer while attempting to pull out their rally caps. Butler’s Battipede would dig in his bag of tricks to find open passing lanes while he and Perry would stay in attack mode on the ground. The 7-play series featured a double pass and an incomplete flea-flicker, then Battipede would find his open WR PJ Coffey for a 21-yard pitch catch score that went nearly the length of the field. Butler would close the gap 20-13 with 11:21 left in the game as the drive spilled over into the fourth quarter.

Shabazz would answer with a three-touchdown knockout combination to seal the sectional championship in their favor. The first touchdown in the fourth quarter was delivered in the form of an 8-play, 57-yard drive that was mostly on the ground, but Smith and Walker were enjoying the hot hands as they combined for a 38-yard icebreaking bomb to put the game squarely back in their firm grasp 26-13 with 6:35 left in the game.  

Shabazz DL LaQuan Gaddy would snag the second interception of the night and rumble back 26 yards to set up Rahmir Jackson’s 5-yard skip-and-dive into the end zone for the 32–13 commanding lead. Butler couldn’t find an answer on their next to final possession as Shabazz’s defensive clout shut down Butler’s passing attack and forced a turnover on downs. With 4:23 remaining in the game, Shabazz needed two first downs to kill the clock, but that wasn’t going to sit well with the “Pride of the South Side.” Shabazz sophomore RB sensation or the fans called him “Superman”, Zaiden McDonald did his best runaway bulldog impression for a 72-yard galloping game, ending the sectional final. The icing on the championship cake would be the 2 point conversion pass from Smith to Nasir Gaines. 

“This for all of those who doubted us,” said Shabazz rookie head coach Nazir “Naz” Oliver. “All season long, we had to deal with adversity and now we are the state sectional champions.” He went on to say that at the beginning of the season they didn’t know who they were and the difference is now they do. Oliver follows in the footsteps of former head coaches that includes Dave McCombs and Darnell Grant that led Shabazz to state championships within the first couple of years at the helm. Oliver is certainly the youngest to actually win the sectional title as a head coach. “I am looking for our team to win it all!!” he exclaimed. Butler’s head coach, Jason Luciani made it plain that his team made some crucial mistakes and as he puts it, “We got caught behind the sticks.” He said that he will start the offseason preparations in the coming weeks and go back to the drawing board. Butler was  the top seed in the North Jersey Section ,2 Group 1 playoff bracket. They defeated two Essex County teams, eight-seeded Verona 47-21 and the high-powered fourth seeded Weequahic 21-14. 

Shabazz will hit the road again and head up to Wilkens Field in Mountain Lakes to take on the Lakers in the North, Group 1 semifinal game Friday evening, Nov. 17 at 7 p.m. The winner of this game will have the opportunity to play for the state Group 1 championship at Rutgers University’s SHI Stadium against the winner of Central Jersey Group 1 champion Glassboro and South Jersey Group 1 champion Woodstown.

Photos Courtesy of Kerry E. Porter

Shabazz vs. Butler (North 2, Group 1 sectional championship, on Friday, Nov. 10, at Butler)