HUTCHINSON, Kan. – Time simply ran out on a potential comeback bid for Butler, as the second-ranked Grizzlies fell short in a 35-27 loss at No. 1 Hutchinson at Gowans Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Butler (5-1 overall, 3-1 conference) nearly overcame a 21-0 first quarter deficit and an injury to starting quarterback Steven Frank, as the Grizzlies rallied around backup Jack Samsel and scored three touchdowns in the final 17 minutes of play. The Grizzlies had possession in Blue Dragons' territory at the 25-yard line with 20 seconds remaining, but a sack followed by a false start to force a 10-second runoff ended Butler's chances for a win.
Coming off the bench in the second half, Samsel completed 16-of-26 passes for 268 yards with two touchdowns and added a rushing score to spark the Grizzlies' offense. George Qualls was the main Butler target with nine receptions for 159 yards and two touchdowns, while Ke'John Batiste hauled in six passes for 113 yards. Both Qualls and Batiste had season-highs in receptions and yards, as Butler had two receivers over the 100-yard mark in the same game for the first time since Nov. 5, 2016 (at Independence, C.J. Sims and Josh Wilkes).
Hutchinson quarterback Mark Wright was the key Dragons' playmaker, as he accounted for 315 total yards and four total touchdowns – throwing for 194 yards on 10-of-17 passing with three passing scores and 121 yards rushing on 17 attempts with a rushing touchdown.
The Blue Dragons came out on fire with touchdowns on their first three possessions during a rain-soaked first half. Wright keyed the Dragons' opening march with a one-yard touchdown run – keyed by a Wright 66-yard run – then Hutchinson followed with a 69-yard scoring pass to Kendall Cross and a 29-yard touchdown toss to Craig Burt.
Meanwhile, Butler turned the ball over on downs on its opening possession, then punted on its next three drives. The Grizzlies finally gained momentum early in the second quarter after a low snap on a punt gave Butler the ball at the Hutch 19. Two plays later, Butler cashed in on the Hutch error as Qualls made a catch over a Dragon defender for a 17-yard touchdown from Steven Frank.
Down 21-7 at the break, Butler struggled on its opening possession of the second half, as Hutchinson recovered a Frank fumble at the Grizzly 22-yard line, with Frank being injured on the play. A quick four-play drive resulted in a Cross 3-yard touchdown run to put the Dragons back up by 21.
Following a 35-minute delay due to lighting strikes in the area, Butler began to mount its comeback attempt towards the end of the third quarter, as Qualls made a fingertip grab in front of the Hutch sideline for a 25-yard reception to the Grizzly 38. An Adarius Thomas 15-yard run and a personal foul on the play quickly moved the ball to the Hutchinson 26.
Two plays later, Samsel hit Qualls over the middle for a 25-yard touchdown to get Butler within two scores at 28-14.
On Hutchinson's next possession, the Dragons managed one first down and would eventually line up to punt near midfield, but a low snap forced punter Nolan Arrington to scramble out of bounds at the Hutch 49 as the third quarter expired.
Butler took advantage as Samsel connected with Ke'John Batiste for 21 yards on the first play. On 3rd-and-6 from the Hutch 24, Samsel completed a 9-yard pass to Qualls near the Butler sideline for a first down. Hutchinson then had two penalties – roughing the passer and defensive pass interference – which advanced the ball down to the 2-yard line.
On 3rd-and-goal from the Hutch 4, Butler lined up in shotgun formation with four receivers to the right side. Samsel looked right, then ran left into the end zone untouched for the touchdown. However, Jacob Abel's point after attempt hit the left upright, as the Grizzlies trailed 28-20 with 11:20 remaining.
Hutchinson responded with a 46-yard touchdown pass from Wright to Mitchell Tinsley on a quick four-play drive that was extended on a Butler defensive pass interference on 3rd-and-9 from the Hutch 35. Two plays later, Tinsley caught a pass at the Grizzly 5-yard line and avoided a tackle to give the Dragons a 35-20 lead.
Butler punted on its next possession, but stopped the Hutch offense and burned all three timeouts to conserve clock. Hutchinson pinned Butler back to the 6-yard line after a Dragon punt with 5:44 remaining, but Samsel quickly moved the Grizzly offense with a 25-yard pass to JaQuay Lane over the middle, then two plays later found Batiste for 46 yards down the left side to the Hutch 21.
Facing 3rd-and-4 from the Hutch 15, Samsel threw his second touchdown as Lane got open over the middle and caught a 15-yard touchdown pass to pull Butler back within 35-27 with 4:01 left.
After a Hutch three-and-out and punt, the Grizzlies' final possession started from their own 33-yard line with 2:07 to play. Butler faced 3rd-and-16 from the Hutch 27, but a short pass to Sturges and a facemask on the play moved the ball into Dragon territory at the 48-yard line.
Butler converted another long third-down conversion on 3rd-and-13 on a Samsel 13-yard pass to Lane at the Hutch 38 to stop the clock with 53 seconds. Two plays later, another completion to Batiste for 13 yards in bounds had Butler knocking on the door at the Hutch 25.
After an incomplete pass to Qualls, Hutchinson called timeout with 20 seconds left. The timeout worked for the Blue Dragons as Hutch's Dionte Gipson sacked Samsel on the first play, forcing the Grizzlies to scramble back to the line of scrimmage with time winding down. A false start before Butler snapped the ball with two seconds on the clock forced a 10-second runoff and ended the game.
Butler edged Hutchinson by one yard – 408 to 407 – in total offensive yards and had more first downs (26 to 16) than the Blue Dragons. Hutchinson had the edge defensively with six sacks to Butler's two, along with the fumble recovery to start the second half.
Defensively for Butler, defensive lineman Quillan Felton and Derick Newton finished with nine tackles each. As a team, the Grizzlies finished with 14 tackles for losses, with Nazir Sy leading the team with two.
Butler will attempt to refocus with a road game Saturday at Independence (2-2 overall, 2-2 conference), who had a bye week. The Pirates were ranked in last week's poll at 20th following a Sept. 14 win at Garden City, but bowed out of the rankings with a 25-27 road loss to Fort Scott the following week.
NOTES: With the loss, Butler holds a one-game lead in the all-time series over Hutchinson at 48-47-1. The Blue Dragons recorded their first victory at Gowans Stadium over Butler, snapping a 12-game Grizzly win streak in games played at Hutch. The Dragons had not defeated Butler at home since a 36-18 first round victory in the Region VI playoffs back on Oct. 29, 1995… Butler is now 9-6 all-time in #1 vs. #2 matchups and 3-2 in #1 vs. #2 matchups against KJCCC opponents. The loss was the first to a Jayhawk Conference school since Oct. 7, 2000, when #2 Butler lost 20-12 at #1 Garden City… Qualls ranks seventh among all NJCAA receivers with 430 yards on the season and became the first Grizzly to catch nine passes and have over 150 yards receiving in a game since C.J. Sims achieved the feat on Nov. 5, 2016 at Independence (10 receptions for 172 yards)… Sturges finished with 85 yards rushing and ranks second in the nation in rushing yards (692), third in rushing yards per game (115.3) and tied for fourth in rushing touchdowns (7).