GARDEN CITY, Kan. — Butler football fell short in its regular season finale with a 22-10 loss at No. 2 Garden City on Saturday afternoon at Broncbuster Stadium.
Butler (7-4 overall, 5-2 conference) trailed 15-0 at halftime, but managed to cut the lead to five with 2:51 remaining in the third quarter. However, Garden City responded with a Charles West 45-yard rushing touchdown and kept Butler out of the end zone on a key fourth-quarter drive to seal the victory.
The win also gave Garden City (10-0, 7-0) its second conference championship in three seasons, while Butler dropped its fourth straight game to the Broncbusters.
Garden City scored its first touchdown in the opening quarter after a controversial Butler pass interference call on fourth down to keep the Busters' drive alive. The Broncbusters elected to keep the offense on the field on a 4th-and-6 at the Grizzlies' 18-yard line, but D'Anthony Bell deflected a pass to force a potential turnover on downs. Instead, Butler was called for pass interference on the play and two plays later, Garden's Ellis Merriweather scored from six yards out with 2:13 left in the quarter.
Midway through the second quarter, Garden went up 15-0 after taking advantage of an interception on a tipped pass. Garden's Kenny White caught a deflected pass off a Butler receiver at the Grizzlies' 45-yard line, then managed to get two first downs at the Butler 11. From the Butler 9-yard line on second down, Dedrick Mills took a handoff from Merriweather out of the Wildcat formation and went into the end zone with 2:11 before the break.
Butler got back into the contest after halftime when Garden turned the ball over on downs on its second possession to open the second half. With the ball at the Butler 49 on 4th-and-2 in the Wildcat formation, West was stopped by Jacoby Jones to force the turnover.
The Grizzlies quickly moved the ball downfield on their first two plays behind a 15-yard Self pass to Chod Morrow and a 23-yard Ja'kevious Vickers run to the Garden 11. Butler's offense stalled, but settled for a 27-yard field goal from Tyler Zentner to give the Grizzlies their first points of the game.
Zentner kept Butler's next drive alive with a 35-yard run on a fake punt from the Grizzly 25, then Self hit Larry Jones on a receiver screen pass on the next play for a 36-yard touchdown. Zentner's extra point pulled Butler within five, 15-10, with 2:51 left in the third quarter.
On Garden's ensuing possession, Merriweather had a 12-yard run on the opening play of the drive, then a Butler personal foul moved the ball near midfield. Shortly after, West took a handoff and went up the Busters' sideline for a 45-yard score.
Butler looked to answer on the next drive, which opened with a 35-yard pass from Self to Kaden Davis to the Busters' 16-yard line. A Vickers 9-yard run, followed by a Self 4-yard run moved the ball to the Garden 4. Self ran twice on consecutive plays down to the Garden 1-yard line, but a 5-yard loss and an incomplete pass on fourth down ended the drive.
The Grizzlies failed to advance the ball past midfield on their final two possessions, letting the clock run out on the final drive.
Garden dominated the time of possession, keeping the ball for 38:33 to Butler's 21:27. The Busters ran 80 plays for 356 yards, while the Grizzlies had just 53 plays for 289 yards.
Self completed 9-of-22 passes for 159 yards and one touchdown, while Jones led the Grizzlies in receiving with 72 yards on four receptions. Vickers was the top Butler rusher with 65 yards on eight carries.
Garden City, who leads the NJCAA in rushing, had 280 yards on the ground as West had 175 rushing yards on 35 carries.
Defensively, Butler had three players - Hunter Kier, Dorian Pollard and Esaias Carpenter - with 10 tackles each. Both Kier and Pollard had seven solo tackles in the loss. Jones and Jordan Smith finished with nine tackles, with Smith making 2.5 tackles for losses.
Butler will now await to see if the season will continue with a bowl game bid, as announcements will likely be released early next week.
NOTES: With the loss, the series with Garden City is tied at 40-40-3 overall... Butler dropped its fourth straight game to Garden City, which matches the Busters' four-game winning streak over the Grizzlies from 1994 to 1997.