CEDAR FALLS, Iowa — This pursuit of national titles, which the Butler Community College football team seems to have down to science, comes with one caveat. One thing that no amount of planning or practice can account for.
When you get to the game where you’re finally playing for it all, anything can happen.
No. 2 Butler, which understands that fact perhaps better than anyone in the country, lost 27-7 to No. 1 Iowa Western on Sunday in the Graphic Edge Bowl. It was the Grizzlies’ second straight defeat in the NJCAA championship game, following a 2010 loss to Navarro.
It was the first national title in football for Iowa Western, which just started a football program four years ago.
“We wanted to bring that championship home ... (Iowa Western) was just the better team today,” Butler coach Troy Morrell said. “People want to beat you, they’re going to do everything they can. We had our opportunities we just couldn’t capitalize. I’m frustrated, but I’m proud of our guys.”
The biggest opportunity for Butler, and the game’s biggest momentum swing, came with time winding down in the first half and the Grizzlies trailing 7-0.
After an Iowa Western fumble at the Reivers’ 37-yard line, The Grizzlies seemed poised to at least cut the lead with a field goal before halftime. But Iowa Western safety James Garlock jumped a pass by Butler’s Billy Cosh at the 12-yard line and returned it 88 yards for a touchdown and a 14-0 lead as time expired in the second quarter.
Cosh, trying to prevent the score, pursued Garlock to the pylon, and their collision left Cosh laying on the turf inside the UNI-Dome with a knee injury. Cosh watched the second half from a wheelchair.
“As soon as I intercepted (the pass), I looked up and I saw five of us and two of them so I knew we had a shot,” said Garlock, who had two interceptions in the game and came in after an injury to Travis Green on the game’s second play. “I don’t think I’ve scored a touchdown since eighth grade. It just felt awesome.”
The Reivers scored their other touchdown of the first half on a 6-yard run by quarterback Jake Waters with 4:34 left in the second quarter.
Butler punted the ball seven times in the first half and managed just 85 yards of offense.
“We’ve got our backs against the wall, then all of a sudden we’re up 14-0 and they’ve lost their starting quarterback,” Iowa Western coach Steve Strohmeier said. “That’s an unbelievable swing.”
Cosh was replaced by freshman Tyler Harrison, who threw interceptions on his first two pass attempts, both in Iowa Western territory. The first interception led to a 1-yard touchdown run by Don Jackson to give the Reivers a 21-0 lead.
“We couldn’t hear much with the crowd, especially in the second half, so it was hard to get the count down,” Butler offensive lineman Johnathan McClure. “But Iowa Western is a great team, you can’t take anything away from them.”
Harrison’s second interception, by Isaiah Johnson, came at the Iowa Western 1-yard line and the Reivers turned it into more points, this time an 18-yard field goal by Lance Irvin for a 24-0 lead.
“You can’t win when you turn the ball over, especially against a great team like Iowa Western,” Morrell said. “They’re good enough to beat you when you don’t turn it over.”
Offensively, the Reivers played it safe in the second half, relying on the accurate arm of sophomore Waters, a hometown product from Council Bluffs, Iowa. Waters was 17 of 17 passing in the second half and finished 32 of 40 for 306 yards. Iowa Western’s Deon Long finished with 14 catches for 136 yards and became the first receiver in NJCAA history to finish with more than 100 catches in a season.
“That’s just what Jake and Deon have done all year,” Strohmeier said. “We didn’t attack downfield like we’ve done in the past because it just wasn’t there, so we went to the intermediate routes and the quick outs and stuff like that.”
Waters stood tough in the pocket despite being sacked six times by Butler’s defense, including 2 1/2 from Ufomba Kamalu. Waters had been sacked five times all season headed into Sunday’s game. Kamalu, who also had 12 tackles, was named the game’s defensive MVP.
“They can never take this away from us,” Water said. “We’re the best team in junior-college football ... nobody can ever take that away.”
The Grizzlies got their only points on a 1-yard touchdown run by Harrison with just under nine minutes left in the fourth quarter.
When the final buzzer sounded, it touched off a raucous celebration by Iowa Western as the Reivers sprinted across the field toward their fans, who filled up a good portion of the home side at Northern Iowa’s stadium.
The Grizzlies, who finished the season 11-1 for the third year in a row, were staggered along their own sideline, some crying, some just numb with disbelief.
“I’m damn proud of my teammates ... I’ve never been around a group of guys who worked this hard, who put this much into something,” said Butler safety Max Martinez, a Bishop Carroll product. “Iowa Western played a great game. We left everything we had on the field, that’s all you can ask for.”
IW--Waters 6 run (Irvin kick)
IW--Garlock 88 interception return (Irvin kick)
IW--Jackson 1 run (Irvin kick)
IW--Irvin 48 FG
B--Harrison 1 run (Rawlings kick)
IW--Irvin 24 FG
Rushing– Butler, Thomas 21-108, Allen 13-37, Harrison 2-12, Thomas 2-4, Ostrgren 1-0, Hurla 1-(-4), Blue 1-(-5). Iowa Western, Wimberley 12-59, Waters 19-12, Jackson 4-11, Roberts 2-9, Bravard 1-2, Team 2-(-3).
Passing – Butler, Cosh 7-20-31-2, Harrison 3-6-53-2. Iowa Western, Waters 32-40-306-0, Bravard 2-2-10-0.
Receiving – Butler, Hurla 3-57, Thomas 3-(-2), Clarke 1-43, Fields 1-(-2), Thomas 1-(-5), Allen 1-(-7). Iowa Western, Long 14-126, Stone 7-28, Barr 6-72, Wimberley 3-42, Allison 2-20, Jackson 1-13, Gilland 1-5.