HUTCHINSON, Kan. – A late touchdown and two-point conversion doomed the Butler football team in a 39-38 loss to Eastern Arizona on Saturday at the Salt City Bowl at Gowans Stadium.
The Grizzlies led 38-24 with nine minutes to play, but a fumble gave Eastern Arizona a defensive touchdown to get within a touchdown. Then after a Butler drive stalled, the Gila Monsters got the ball back with 5:34 to play. Eastern drove 71 yards in 10 plays for the touchdown, with quarterback Jonathan Thomas rushing seven yards for the touchdown. Thomas also ran in on the conversion to give Eastern Arizona the win.
Butler (7-5 overall) had taken an early 3-0 lead on its opening drive of the game as Luke Winter nailed a 35-yard field goal. Eastern Arizona matched that with a 23-yard field goal on its next drive. The game was tied 3-3 after the first quarter.
Eastern Arizona scored on the first play of the second quarter, and fullback Andrew Hardrick crashed into the end zone with a 2-yard run. The extra point was blocked, but Eastern had its first lead at 9-3.
After a 44-yard kickoff return, Butler quarterback David Isreal threw a 56-yard touchdown pass to Josh Wilkes, who caught the ball in between two defenders and drug them into the end zone for the score. The extra point by Winter put Butler up 10-9.
Butler would go up 17-9 on a 14-yard touchdown pass from Isreal to Lucas Vang with 4:04 left in the half.
Eastern put together a scoring drive late in the half as Hardrick scored his second touchdown, this one from a yard out. Thomas ran in the two-point conversion to tie the game 17-17 with 45 seconds left in the half.
Butler then executed its hurry-up offense to perfection, driving down the field and scoring in just 29 seconds of clock time. The touchdown came on a trick play, as Isreal passed the ball to C.J. Sims, who then threw it back to Isreal, who ran 13 yards into the end zone with nine seconds left in the half.
Butler led 24-17 at halftime and would get the ball back to start the second half. The Grizzlies were forced to punt, but Eastern Arizona fumbled the kick and Butler recovered.
The Grizzlies made the Gila Monsters pay for the mistake, as Kevon Abrams reached the ball out over the right pylon on a seven-yard run to put Butler up 31-17 with 9:28 left in the third quarter.
Still, the Butler defense forced Eastern Arizona to punt. This time, the Grizzlies fumbled on the punt, as the ball rolled into the punt returner. Eastern scored one play later on a 23-yard quarterback keeper by Thomas, making the score 31-24.
Still, Butler looked to be in good shape when it scored on its next drive. A 58-yard pass from Isreal to Tyler Currie set up a 1-yard rushing touchdown by Isreal to put the Grizzlies up 38-24 going to the fourth quarter.
The Grizzlies still had that lead and the ball with nine minutes to go, but Kevon Abrams fumbled and the ball bounced right into the hands of Eastern defensive back Justin Ewen, who ran 25 yards untouched to the end zone. The defensive score cut Butler's lead to 38-31 with 9:20 to play.
Butler's final punt set up Eastern's game-winning drive. It is the third game this season in which the Grizzlies gave up the game-winning points in the final drive of the game (7-3 to Dodge City and 31-28 to Independence).
Butler outgained Eastern Arizona offensively, 434-395. Eastern Arizona had 357 of its yards on the ground. Butler quarterback David Isreal was 8 of 16 passing for 246 yards and two touchdowns with an interception. He also had a touchdown receiving and one rushing. Kevon Abrams finished with 21 carries for 122 yards and a touchdown. Myron Mitchell was Butler's leading receiver with three catches for 88 yards.
Defensively, Butler was led by Sean Bernard who had 21 total tackles, 11 of them solo stops. He also had a tackle for loss, forced two fumbles and blocked two Eastern Arizona kicks. He was named the Salt City Bowl Defensive MVP for his efforts.