EL DORADO, Kan. – The Butler Grizzlies are Region VI champions and are likely going to play for a national championship after beating Hutchinson 26-16 on a cold, blustery Sunday afternoon at BG Products Veterans Sports Complex.
The Grizzlies scored the final 10 points of the game to break a 16-16 tie in the third quarter. The win gives Butler its third straight Region VI championship and the ninth in Troy Morrell's 13 years as head coach.
The win also gives No. 2-ranked Butler a perfect 11-0 record to end the regular season and likely will propel the Grizzlies into the national championship game. It is expected that Butler will receive an invitation to the Graphic Edge Bowl in Cedar Falls, Iowa on Dec. 2 to take on top-ranked Iowa Western, which is also 11-0. An official announcement could come as early as Tuesday.
Butler won on Sunday despite a frigid north wind that continuously gusted up to 30 miles per hour. Each team took advantage of the wind when it was at their back.
Hutchinson was the first team with the win, scoring on a field goal in the first quarter to take a 3-0 lead. The deficit could have been larger for Butler, however, as Hutchinson missed its first field goal attempt and faked its second attempt, which resulted in an incomplete pass.
Butler had the wind at its back in the second quarter. The Grizzlies would get a 29-yard field goal from Robert Rawlings to tie the game. Butler would then get a 27-yard touchdown pass from Billy Cosh to Jacob Hurla to go ahead 10-3 with 8:28 left in the first half.
The Grizzlies would get two more field goals from Rawlings in the first half, one from 31 yards and the other from 32 yards out, and Butler would take a 16-3 lead at halftime.
Hutchinson would have the wind at its back in the third quarter, though, and would take advantage of Butler mistakes and the win. A blocked punt led to a field goal, as did a Billy Cosh interception on a pass that got caught in the wind and was picked off by a Hutchinson defender.
Butler's biggest mistake, however, was a fumble by Derrick Thomas that gave Hutchinson the ball at the 3-yard line. Two plays later, the Blue Dragons scored on a play-action pass from Luke Barnes to John Mies that tied the score 16-16 with 6:08 to play in the third quarter.
Hutchinson continued to have the momentum when Butler was forced to punt on the following drive. A short kick into the wind gave the Blue Dragons the ball near midfield. At that point, however, it was a Hutchinson mistake that changed the game. A lateral pass was dropped by a Hutchinson receiver and the ball was recovered by the Grizzlies. The officials huddled and ruled the pass was indeed a lateral and not a forward pass, giving Butler possession inside Hutchinson territory.
On fourth down, Butler's Derrick Thomas carried the ball and broke free to the right, sprinting into the end zone for a touchdown that put the Grizzlies in front 23-16 with 2:52 left in the third quarter. It would be the only points scored into the wind in the contest.
Butler would get the wind back in the fourth quarter and Robert Rawlings would kick an 18-yard field goal – his fourth in the game – that put Butler ahead by the final margin.
The Butler defense would stymie Hutchinson for the remainder of the game to seal the win, highlighted by two interceptions by free safety Tate Omli. The Grizzlies would surrender just 220 yards of total offense to the high-powered Hutchinson offense.
Butler generated its lowest offensive output of the season in the harsh elements, but running back Derrick Thomas had a big day with 25 carries for 105 yards and a touchdown. Billy Cosh completed 14 of 31 passes for 126 yards. Javess Blue was the leading receiver with five catches for 36 yards while Jacob Hurla had three catches for 46 yards and a touchdown.