EL DORADO — As has become a habit in Region VI championship games, Butler used a potent offense and a stifling defense to withstand a Hutchinson challenge for a 40-21 victory Sunday at Galen Blackmore Stadium for its eighth title in the past 10 years.
But this one was in doubt until the 5:47 mark of the second half, when Grizzlies quarterback Chandler Whitmer hit Kendall Wrenn with an 11-yard touchdown pass for a 23-21 lead that Butler would not relinquish.
The Blue Dragons (8-3) got off to a strong start, holding Butler to a field goal after a drive stalled at the Hutch 2.
Hutch, which had short fields all day because Butler (10-1) opted to kick the ball short and away from standout Cordarelle Patterson, drove 62 yards to take the lead on quarterback Elliott Alford's 13-yard run. Duane Sims then intercepted Whitmer on Butler's next possession and took the ball all the way to the Butler 10. Jatavius Stewart ran it in on the next play, and suddenly Hutch had a 14-3 lead.
Butler's rushing game took over in the second quarter, led by sophomore Derrick Thomas, who had runs of 65 and 61 yards in the period. On the second, he broke through the line and sprinted to the end zone, allowing Butler to reclaim the lead, 17-14.
Hutch again took advantage of a Butler mistake for its third touchdown. Grizzlies punter Connor Frazell fielded a high snap, but the Blue Dragons stopped him at the Butler 27. Patterson's 5-yard run capped a seven-play drive, and Michael Mesh's extra point put Hutch ahead, 21-17. But that was when Whitmer hit Wrenn for the go-ahead score.
From that point, Butler kept up the pressure on the Blue Dragons, and forced four interceptions in the game — three by sophomore Zach Miller.
"I think the turning point was definitely the picks in the second half," Grizzlies coach Troy Morrell said. "To be able to bounce back, our guys showed tremendous perseverance today. It was easy to get frustrated, but I give our guys a lot of credit for sticking together and battling."
Miller said on each of the three that he knew it was up to him.
"I wasn't doing too good in the second half, and I had to turn it on," he said. "I was just glad to come out there and make the plays I'm capable of making."
Once the Grizzlies got the ball, their run game began to flex its muscles, and sophomore Jasper Sanders took over in the fourth quarter where Thomas had left off, breaking through the Hutch defense for touchdowns of 25 and 58 yards, sealing the title.
"I saw the open hole, and I said, 'I've got to run,'" Sanders said.
Hutchinson coach Rion Rhoades said Butler's running game keyed its comeback.
"We didn't fit the run very well in the second half especially," he said. "They're pretty good at both (running and passing), so you pay too much attention to one, and it's just a matter of guys getting out of position.
"To me, that was the difference, quarterback play, getting the ball out quick and being able to just move the chains."
Butler and Hutchinson will both find out their bowl destinations sometime this week.
Hutchinson (8-3) 14 0 7 0 — 21 Butler (10-1) 3 14 9 14 — 40
B—Frazell 18 FG)
H—Alford 13 run (Mesh kick)
H—Stewart 11 run (Mesh kick
B—Boyce 44 pass from Whitmer (Frazell kick)
B—Thomas 61 run (Frazell kick)
H—Patterson 5 run (Mesh kick))
B—Wrenn 11 pass from Whitmer (kick blocked)
B—Frazell 30 FG
B—J. Sanders 25 run (Frazell kick)
B—J. Sanders 58 run (Frazell kick)
Rushing— Hutchinson, Patterson 6-24, Stewart 6-24, Alford 13-12, Dinwiddie 1-9, Lane 3-3. Butler, Thomas 10-142, J. Sanders 17-119, Smith 15-71, Enriquez 1-0, Whitmer 3-(minus 6), Frazell 1-(minus 14).
Passing— Hutchinson, Alford 14-28-3-131, Stewart 1-1-0-9, Patterson 0-1-1-0. Butler, Whitmer 16-30-1-210.
Receiving— Hutchinson, Stewart 5-50, Stewart 4-24, Patterson 3-35, Johns 3-31. Butler, Clarke 4-42, Boyce 3-70, Wrenn 3-32, Blue 2-47, Fields 1-15, Hurla 1-7, J. Sanders 1-2, Smith 1-(minus 5).