Running through the options, which were many, Butler Community College football coach Troy Morrell kept coming back to one unshakeable fact as he tried to pick a bowl game for the Grizzlies.
“At the end of the day it comes down to playing the highest-ranked opponent you can,” Morrell said. “We could’ve stayed in our home state and played a game, but our players and coaching staff want to play the best.”
This year, the Grizzlies’ path is a familiar one. Sunday’s Graphics Edge Bowl in Cedar Falls, Iowa, pits No. 5 Butler (9-1) against No. 3 Iowa Western (10-1) at 3 p.m. in a rematch of last year’s NJCAA championship game, which Iowa Western won 27-7 for its first national title in football.
“I have a lot of respect for Troy and that program for their approach (to picking a bowl), and we want the same thing, to get the best available matchup,” Iowa Western coach Scott Strohmeier said. “We’re each one stumble away from playing for the championship again.”
The Reivers’ stumble came against one of the teams playing for the NJCAA title on Sunday, losing at No. 1 Georgia Military 48-38 on Sept. 28. Georgia Military plays No. 2 East Mississippi on Sunday in the Mississippi Bowl at Biloxi, Miss.
Butler’s one loss came to Highland, 23-21 on Sept. 21 in El Dorado. The Grizzlies won the rematch, 38-7 on Nov. 3 in the Region VI semifinals.
It was the second time in the last decade that a loss to the Scotties cost Butler a shot at the NJCAA title — Highland defeated No. 1 Butler 43-29 in the 2006 regular-season finale for the Grizzlies’ only loss that season.
“You can’t gauge the whole season on what happens in the bowl game, but you always want to go out a winner,” Morrell said. “We’ve hit our goals of winning the regular-season conference championship, of winning the region championship and we want to accomplish one more goal of winning a bowl game.”
Butler has finished 11-1 and No. 2 in the final NJCAA poll the last three seasons, with losses in the NJCAA title game in 2010 and 2012.
Iowa Western, the Midwest Football Conference champion, played seven of its 11 games on the road this season in preparation for what’s on tap in 2014 — they’ll play an 11-game schedule with eight of the games coming against the Jayhawk Conference per a new scheduling agreement for Iowa Western, Iowa Central and Ellsworth.
“Butler plays so disciplined and they’re so physical,” Strohmeier said. “That’s the kind of team you relish the opportunity to play. You watch them on film and you see how they approach the game and it’s easy to understand why their program is where it’s at.
“We’re looking forward to next season and the opportunity to play at the Kansas schools and in atmospheres we’ve never experienced.”