EL DORADO — There were 10 opponents before Sunday, but no real challengers. No one that could truly test the mettle of Butler Community College’s undefeated football team.
That changed Sunday in the Region VI title game against Hutchinson.
“We’re only as good as the people we surround ourselves with,” Butler coach Troy Morrell said. “The kids we have, they believe in us and trust what we’re doing. They’ve bought in.”
The Grizzlies, ranked No. 2 in the latest NJCAA poll, held off a second-half rally by the Blue Dragons for a 26-16 win and a likely spot in the national-championship game on Dec. 2 against No. 1 Iowa Western in the Graphics Edge Bowl at Cedar Falls, Iowa.
Butler won its first 10 games by an average of 48.2 points, including four victories by 60 or more points.
Hutchinson trailed 16-3 at halftime and the Blue Dragons’ best players were running back Terrell Lane, the nation’s second-leading rusher, and 6-foot-4, 307-pound defensive tackle Toby Johnson, a four-star recruit. Lane injured his ankle early in the game and Johnson was out with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
“It didn’t change anything,” said Hutchinson coach Rion Rhoades, whose record against Butler dropped to 0-10 in six seasons. “We just play with whoever is healthy. We try to get stops on defense and get the ball in the end zone on offense.”
Hutchinson’s Antonio Johnson intercepted Butler quarterback Billy Cosh on the Grizzlies’ first possession of the second half to set up a 34-yard field goal by Michael Mesh to make the score 16-6. A muffed punt by Butler on its next possession and deep in Grizzly territory set up another Mesh field goal, this one from 30 yards out.
Then, on Butler’s next possession, running back Derrick Thomas fumble at the Grizzlies’ 3-yard line set up a 4-yard touchdown pass from Luke Barnes to John Mies that tied the score at 16-16 with just over six minutes left in the third quarter.
“We just needed to keep our poise, to keep battling,” Morrell said. “And I feel like that’s what they did.”
Butler’s defense did most of the heavy lifting the rest of the way — a fumble by Hutchinson’s Kody Cook set up a 17-yard touchdown run by Thomas and Tate Omli’s second interception of the second half set up an 18-yard field goal by Robert Rawlings to make the score 26-16 with just over three minutes left in the game.
“I feel like we played well, I feel like we were always in control,” Omli said. “I happened to be in a good spot to capitalize on opportunities when they came my way, and now we have an opportunity for something much bigger.”
Thomas finished with 105 rushing yards. Cosh had 126 passing yards and one touchdown.
Butler’s defense posted four sacks and forced four turnovers.
The Grizzlies last national title came in 2008. They lost to Navarro in the championship game in 2011.
“Now we get to play for the grandest prize in all of college football, a national championship” Morrell said.
H—Mesh 47 FG,
B—Rawlings 29 FG
B—Hurla 27 pass from Cosh (Rawlings kick)
B—Rawlings 31 FG
B—Rawlings 32 FG
H—Mesh 34 FG
H—Mesh 30 FG
H—Mies 4 pass from Barnes (Mesh kick)
B—Thomas 17 run (Rawlings kick)
B—Rawlings 18 FG
Rushing—Hutchinson, Mooney 18-35, Cook 2-1, Barnes 11-1, Lane 4-(-4). Butler, Thomas 25-105, Smith 12-25, Glatczak 1-4, Allen 1-1, Suggs 1-(-8), Cosh 4-(-17), Team 1-(-1).
Passing—Hutchinson, Barnes 16-35-187-2, Mesh 0-1-0-0. Butler, Cosh 14-31-126-1.
Receiving—Hutchinson, Johns 5-43, Cook 4-58, Stewart 3-45, Money 2-28, Johnson 1-9, Mies 1-4. Butler, Blue 5-36, Hurla 3-46, Clarke 2-17, Thomas 2-6, Elliott 1-12, Fields 1-9.