EL DORADO, Kan. – The Butler Grizzlies are the Region VI football champions for the second year in a row after defeating Hutchinson 40-21 on Sunday afternoon at Galen Blackmore Stadium.
Butler, ranked No. 3 in the NJCAA polls, will await a bowl bid on Tuesday with a 10-1 record and Jayhawk Conference and Region VI championships.
"It feels really good," Butler coach Troy Morrell said. "It was a battle out there, it wasn't easy. We understood it would be a four-quarter game and the kids knew it would be tough. It's never easy in a championship game.
"I was proud of the way our kids believed and kept battling," Morrell said.
The Grizzlies have now won nine Region VI championships in 11 years under Morrell, who has a record of 26-3 in playoff games as Butler's head coach and an overall record of 125-16 through 12 seasons.
Butler scored first after forcing a Hutchinson punt on the first possession and driving the field to get an 18-yard field goal from Connor Frazell.
Hutchinson, however, would answer with a touchdown of its own on a run by quarterback Elliott Alford to go ahead 7-3.
Butler quarterback Chandler Whitmer was then intercepted on Butler's next possession and Hutchison's Duane Sims returned the ball to the Butler 11-yard line. One play later, Hutch's Jatavius Stewart ran in for a touchdown and Butler trailed 14-3.
Facing its largest deficit of the season, the Grizzlies would get back in the game with a 44-yard touchdown reception by Devon Boyce, who caught a short pass from Whitmer, broke a tackle and sprinted into the end zone, making it a 14-10 game.
Butler would regain the lead later in the second quarter when Derrick Thomas broke free for a 61-yard touchdown run that made the score 17-14.
Hutch would miss a 40-yard field goal wide right at the end of the half, allowing the Grizzlies to hold on to their narrow lead at intermission.
In the third quarter, the Butler offense sputtered and was forced to punt on its first two possessions. The second time, the punt snap was high and fumbled by Butler, allowing Hutchinson to take over deep in Butler territory at the 27-yard line.
The Blue Dragons again took advantage of a Butler miscue, this time with wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson taking a direct snap and running in for a touchdown that put Hutchinson ahead 21-17.
Butler would have to punt on its next possession as well, giving Hutchinson the ball back with the lead and the momentum. But that would change on an interception by Butler's sophomore cornerback Zach Miller.
With the ball back, Butler's offense regained its footing and scored two plays later on a pass from Whitmer to Kendall Wrenn. The extra point was blocked, but the Grizzlies had the lead, 23-31, and the momentum.
Miller would come up with his second consecutive interception on Hutch's next drive, and Butler would convert again, this one on a 30-yard field goal that stretched the lead to 26-21 going into the fourth quarter.
In the final period, Butler would get a pair of touchdowns, both by Jasper Sanders. The first was a 25-yard run in which he shed a tackle, putting Butler ahead 33-21. The drive was aided by two pass interference calls against Hutchinson.
Then, with less than three minutes in the game, Butler added some insurance when Sanders sprinted straight up the middle for a 58-yard touchdown run, pushing the score to the final margin of 40-21.
Butler churned out more than 522 yards of offense, more than 300 yards more than Hutchinson with 212. Butler had 312 of its yards on the ground as Jasper Sanders finished with 117 yards rushing on 19 carries and two touchdowns, while Derrick Thomas had 10 carries for 142 yards and a touchdown and Dreamius Smith had 15 carries for 74 yards.
Chandler Whitmer completed 16 of 30 passes for 210 yards and two touchdowns and an interception. He now has 2,817 yards passing on the season, moving him past Zach Mettenberger for the second highest single season passing mark in school history, sitting only behind Zac Taylor's 3,054 yards in 2004.
Devin Clarke led Butler in receptions with four for 42 yards while Devin Boyce had three catches for 70 yards.
On defense, Zach Miller had three of Butler's four interceptions, giving him six interceptions on the season, tying him for fifth highest total in a single season in Butler history.
Now, Butler will await its bowl bid.
"We have to see what we're going to get," Morrell said. "I'm not exactly sure where the bowl game will be yet, but we'll get our sophomores on some visits, keep working hard and keep our skills sharp."