The Butler Did It: Jalin Butler Shines as No. 3 Donovan Catholic Earns Revenge on No. 4 Wall
TOMS RIVER – With the feeling still fresh in their minds having simmered and stewed all offseason, Donovan Catholic came out on Friday night and delivered a measure of revenge in a marquee Shore Conference American Division clash.
Senior quarterback Jalin Butler shined with 356 yards of combined offense and five total touchdowns and the defense responded to adversity to force three turnovers as the Griffins, ranked No. 3 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, prevailed with a 36-19 victory over No. 4 Wall in a rematch of last season’s (unofficial) Shore Conference championship game.
In the 2020 season finale, Wall defeated Donovan, 18-15, with a last-second goalline stand to finish undefeated and as the No. 1 team in the Shore. To say the Griffins were eager for a rematch would be obvious and understated.
“We felt heartbroken,” Butler said of last season’s loss. “We put in so much work in the offseason and we just let that eat at us every single day. We wanted to win so bad, for all the seniors last year, so it just felt good to come out here and get revenge.”
Butler’s dual-threat ability was on full display against a stout Wall defense as he rushed for 135 yards and three touchdowns on 18 carries and completed 9 of 15 passes for 221 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for a 2-point conversion and intercepted a pass on defense where he is a starting safety.
PHOTO GALLERY BY RAY RICH PHOTOGRAPHY
Butler’s 64-yard run on the first play of Donovan’s second offensive series set up his own 4-yard touchdown run and he added touchdown runs of 2 and 4 yards later in the game. Through the air, the strong-armed righty launched a 59-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Mysun Rush-Esdaile and a 36-yard touchdown pass to sophomore tight end Hunter Johnson.
“Jalin Butler played a heck of a game,” said Donovan Catholic head coach Dan Curcione. “Just an awesome job.”
Butler was also selected as The Block GameDay Countdown MVP.
Senior running back Nunus Bukula IV added 68 yards rushing and 75 yards receiving and senior wideout Kyree Drake totaled 82 scrimmage yards. The Griffins piled up 479 yards on Wall’s vaunted defense, including 258 yards rushing. Their standout offensive line opened holes in the running game, as usual, but was also very good in pass protection to allow Butler the time to take several deep shots down the field.
“We came out today and really threw the ball more,” Butler said. “I can't thank the line enough. They put in the work every single day.”
“The guys up front controlled the line of scrimmage and Chip (offensive coordinator Chip LaBarca Jr.) did an awesome job of putting us in the right spots,” Curcione said.
What allowed Donovan to emerge with a 17-point victory was its resilience. Wall did not go down without a fight and hit several big plays in the passing game to keep the pressure on and it was mostly a one-score game until Donovan pulled away early in the fourth quarter. Each time Wall scored, Donovan had an answer, either with a scoring drive of its own or a timely defensive stop.
“Every time we gave up a big play we answered the bell immediately,” Curcione said. “We didn’t allow the momentum to swing and that’s huge in a big game.”
The game nearly started in disastrous fashion for Donovan when it fumbled the opening kickoff and it bounced off a Wall player before Drake secured the loose ball at the 10-yard. After a first down, consecutive penalties pushed the Griffins back but they were able to move to midfield before Wall forced a punt. The Griffins’ defense responded by forcing a three-and-out to hand the ball back to its offense with 5:01 left in the first quarter.
On the first play of the series, Butler kept on a read-option and broke free down the visiting sideline for a 64-yard run that set Donovan up with a first-and-goal from the Wall 4-yard line. Two plays later, Butler surged in for a 4-yard touchdown run to give the Griffins a 7-0 lead.
Wall gained two first downs on its next drive but had to punt from the Donovan 45-yard line. The Griffins took over at their own 20-yard line but were flagged for a false start on first down and then fumbled on second down. Wall junior linebacker Patrick Donohue made the initial hit on Bukula in the backfield before senior linebacker Charlie Sasso punched the ball loose and senior defensive lineman Joe Sommers pounced on the fumble at the 13-yard line.
On the first play thereafter, senior running back Matt Dollive took a handoff on a jet sweep but pulled up to throw a 13-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Jackson Coan to get Wall on the board. The extra point was unsuccessful, however, when the hold was unable to be put down and the 2-point pass fell incomplete.
A major turning point came on the next series. Butler fumbled when the ball slipped out of his hands on a running play and it bounced right into the arms of Wall senior defensive end Blake Rezk at the Donovan 28-yard line. The Crimson Knights had been presented with a glorious opportunity to take the lead but Donovan’s defense held firm and forced a 25-yard field goal attempt that Wall did not convert.
Donovan took over at the Wall 20-yard line and came up with two clutch third-down conversions to extend the lead. First, Butler checked it down to Bukula for a 24-yard gain on third and nine from the 21-yard line. Three plays later on a third and 14, Butler had time and dropped a rainbow of a pass into the arms of a streaking Rush-Esdaile for a 59-yard touchdown pass and a 14-6 advantage.
“Mysun and I worked a lot together all offseason and I’m glad we could put it together there,” Butler said.
Wall answered almost immediately with a four-play, 72-yard scoring drive. A pass interference penalty gave Wall a first down and two plays later Coan got behind the Donovan defense and Davis found him for a 53-yard touchdown. Wall attempted a 2-point conversion but the pass was incomplete, leaving the score 14-12 with 3:08 left in the first half.
Donovan was, in some ways, fortunate to still be holding the lead, but with just over three minutes left in the first half, the Griffins authored an important scoring drive that helped set the tone for the remainder of the game. Wall squibbed the kickoff and Donovan took possession at its own 43-yard line. An 11-yard run by Bukula followed by runs of eight and four yards by Butler moved the ball to the Wall 34-yard line. Drake then took a carry for 32 yards down to the 2-yard line to set up Butler for a short touchdown run and a 21-12 lead with 44 seconds left in the half.
Now down by two scores, Wall needed an answer to open the second half. The Crimson Knights did exactly that by going 81 yards in five plays to cut Donovan’s lead to 21-19. After gaining a first down to move to the 34-yard line, Davis delivered another deep shot to Coan, who beat the Griffins’ secondary for a 66-yard touchdown. Max Oakley’s extra point made it a two-point game with nine minutes left in the third quarter.
Coan had a huge game with five catches for 182 yards and three touchdowns.
As they did all game, the Griffins responded by going 67 yards in five plays to extend their lead. Bukula ran for 14 yards on first down and then on a third and three, Butler connected with Drake for 10 yards and a first down. On the next play, Johnson was left uncovered down the seam and Butler found him for a 36-yard touchdown to make it 28-19 with 7:07 left in the third quarter.
Wall moved into Donovan territory on a 26-yard catch by Dollive but the drive stalled due to an intentional grounding penalty that put the Knights in a second-and-30 hole. Donovan’s pass rush got to senior Cole Brennan on a fourth and eight to flush him out of the pocket and force an incompletion to take over on downs.
Donovan followed with a six-play, 66-yard scoring drive to put the finishing touches on its victory. The big play was a 51-yard catch and run by Bukula on a backside screen pass. The senior rumbled all the way down to the 3-yard line and two plays later Butler went untouched up the middle for a 4-yard touchdown run. After Wall was flagged for an offsides penalty on the extra point attempt, Donovan went for the 2-point conversion and Butler ran it in to stretch the lead to 36-19 with 9:42 left in the game.
Wall had multiple opportunities to close the gap but Donovan’s defense came up with three red-zone interceptions. A 50-yard reception by Coan put the ball at the Griffins’ 17-yard line but two plays later Drake intercepted Davis in the end zone and returned it to the 5-yard line.
Later in the fourth quarter Wall had the ball at the Donovan 15-yard line but junior linebacker Dante Vernier picked off Brennan at the goal line. Butler added an interception with under three minutes left.
The Griffins earned their revenge victory to improve to 5-1 on the field, although their official record is 2-4 because of the forfeits of their first three wins. That is a moot point for now. The Griffins’ only on-field loss is to No. 1 Rumson-Fair Haven (14-0) and they own convincing wins over Colts Neck, Toms River North, St. John Vianney and Wall. They are certainly one of the best teams in the Shore – a clear-cut No. 3 behind Rumson and Red Bank Catholic – and could get a shot at RBC or another crack at Rumson when the Shore Conference postseason games are announced.
For now, they’ll enjoy the win they’ve coveted for nearly a year, checking another item off their to-do list.
“We were heartbroken last year so it was good to come out here and get the win,” Butler said.
PHOTO GALLERY BY RAY RICH PHOTOGRAPHY
Donovan Catholic vs. Wall Football
No. 3 Donovan Catholic 36, No. 4 Wall 19
|Wall (2-3, 2-2)||6||6||7||0||19|
|Donovan (*2-4, *2-2)||7||14||7||8||36|
DC – Jalin Butler 4-yard run (Gavin Nguyen kick)
W – Jackson Coan 13-yard pass from Matt Dollive (pass failed)
DC – Mysun Rush-Esdaile 59-yard pass from Jalin Butler (Gavin Nguyen kick)
W – Jackson Coan 53-yard pass from Jake Davis (pass failed)
DC – Jalin Butler 2-yard run (Gavin Nguyen kick)
W – Jackson Coan 66-yard pass from Jake Davis (Max Oakley kick)
DC – Hunter Johnson 36-yard pass from Jalin Butler (Gavin Nguyen kick)
DC – Jalin Butler 4-yard run (Jalin Butler run)
RUSHING – W: Cole Brennan 11-56, Matt Dollive 9-29, Jake Davis 6-17, Team 2-(-16); DC: Jalin Butler 18-135, Nunes Bukula IV 9-68, Kyree Drake 4-41, Michael Thomas 2-14.
PASSING – W: Jake Davis 4-6-1 161, Cole Brennan 5-10-2 63, Matt Dollive 1-1-0 13; DC: Jalin Butler 9-15-0 221.
RECEIVING – W: Jackson Coan 5-182, Matt Dollive 2-35, Jerry Winchester 2-18, Charlie Sasso 1-2; DC: Nunes Bukula IV 2-75, Mysun Rush-Esdaile 2-66, Kyree Drake 3-41, Hunter Johnson 1-36, Levi Wilkins 1-3.
INTERCEPTIONS – DC: Kyree Drake 1-5, Dante Vernieri 1-3, Jalin Butler 1-20.