EL DORADO — Butler's most sluggish performances can also be most indicative of why the Grizzlies are the top-ranked junior college football team in the country.
The Grizzlies spent significant time after their 31-5 win over Coffeyville on Sunday in the semifinals of the Region VI playoffs discussing miscommunication within the offense and sloppy play when the game hit a lull in the fourth quarter.
Their criticism was warranted, but a 26-point win, a 10-0 record and a chance to earn a spot in the national championship game leave Butler little to complain about. Butler will likely play for its third title in four years if it beats Hutchinson in the Region VI championship next week.
"I hope we haven't delivered that peak performance yet," Butler coach Troy Morrell said. "We played really good coming into this bye week and had a lot of strong momentum going. Taking 15 days off is tough. It gets you out of your rhythm and gets guys out of their routine, and we weren't as sharp as we have been in the past to this point."
Butler was snapped out of its doldrums, at least temporarily, by an important play on offense and a series of them defensively.
The Grizzlies scored on their opening drive, which started deep in Coffeyville territory after a fumble, but weren't sharp early offensively because running back Ben Axon was unable to provide balance as quarterback Zach Mettenberger completed three of his first four passes.
Morrell sent in Jasper Sanders to provide a lift to the backfield, and on Sanders' first carry, he took the snap in the wildcat formation and ran for a 26-yard touchdown.
"I like it, because I played quarterback in high school and I'm used to it," Sanders said. "A lot of it is blocking. We have to do a good job of blocking, and everybody was doing their job."
A Coffeyville field goal made it 12-3 in the second quarter, and Butler, driving against the wind, didn't pick up a first down on the subsequent drive. A one-yard punt gave the Red Ravens the ball at Butler's 27, and Coffeyville got to the 5-yard line on the next play.
A pitch to running back Muluku Kalokah lost five yards, and Cayden Cochran was sacked on the next play. Two plays later, Luke Pray missed a 29-yard field goal and Coffeyville's last strong scoring opportunity was dashed.
"If they're on the goal line, we're going to try to keep them on the goal line," Butler defensive lineman Darrius McMullin said. "If they're 80 yards away, we're going to try to keep them 80 yards away. We just have to stay focused and try to keep them from scoring."
Coffeyville's offense wasn't versatile enough to keep Butler off-balance. The Ravens tried to establish a running game, but Kalokah was frequently stuffed and rushed for minus-two yards and Coffeyville netted minus-30.
Cochran was benched early, and Corbin Goedert was equally unsuccessful leading the Ravens.
"Sometimes there can be a few distractions when we get up by a lot," McMullin said. "But we all have each other's backs and we keep each other focused."
Besides Sanders' two touchdown runs, Butler's offense was mostly void of long gains. The passing game was methodical, with Mettenberger totalling 223 yards on mostly short passes that allowed receivers to gain yards after the catch.
"You've just got to take what they're giving you, and I thought our guys did a good job of that," Morrell said. "This wind plays tricks on the ball, too. I thought we did a good job of managing it."
Coffeyville (6-4) 0 3 0 2 — 5 Butler (10-0) 6 13 6 6 — 31
B—Wrenn 25 pass from Mettenberger (kick failed)
B—Sanders 26 run (kick failed))
C—Pray 51 FG
B—Sanders 17 run (Drake kick)
B—Mills 3 run (kick failed)
B—Kindel 2 run (kick failed)
C—Jenkins 2-pt PAT return
Rushing—Coffeyville, Kalokoh 11-(-2), Cochran 3-(-11), Goedert 2-(-17). Butler, Sanders 9-87, Axon 20-63, Banner 4-14, Kindel 4-11, Mills 2-6, Mettenberger 7-6.
Passing—Coffeyville, Goedert 16-33-143-2, Cochran 7-9-75-0. Butler, Mettenberger 18-29-223-0.
Receiving—Coffeyville, Patton 6-62, Kalokoh 5-47, Carter 5-44, Johnson 4-35, Dvorak 2-23, Stuart 1-7. Butler, Wrenn 5-88, Soft 4-49, Combes 3-46, Burns 2-12, Kennard 2-9, Dunham 1-15, Freeman 1-4.
No. 7 Hutchinson 24, Independence 17 — Derek Campbell's one-yard run with 6:49 remaining lifted Hutchinson into the Region Vi final.
Campbell's touchdown ended a nine-play 42-yard drive for the Blue Dragons.
Brodrick Waters rushed for 109 yards, and Stephen Houston added 104 for Independence.
Elliott Alford passed for 214 yards and two touchdown sfor Hutchinson. Cordarrelle Patterson caught five of those passes for 101 yards and a touchdown.
Independence (4-6) 0 10 7 0 — 17 Hutchinson (9-1) 7 0 10 7 — 24
H—Patterson 70 pass from Alford (Linn kick)
I—Waters 6 run (Bruce kick)
I—FG Bruce 26
I—Maddox 73 run (Bruce kick)
H—Linn 39 FG
H—Miller 47 pass from Alford (Linn kick)
H—Campbell 1 run (Linn kick)
Rushing—Independence, Waters 19-109, Houston 12-104, Maddox 3-79, Jeune 1-23, Baker 12-23. Hutch, Campbell 18-86, Pease 23-56, Elford 10-43, team 2-(-2).
Passing—Independence, Waters 3-10 21. Hutch, Alford 12-20 214.
Receiving— Independence, Stewart 2-21, Baker 1-0. Hutch, Patterson 5-101, Miller 3-77, Thomas 2-17, Gibb 1-15, Weis 1-4.