A strong defensive effort helped No. 19 Butler in a 17-14 home victory over Independence during a cold and misty Saturday evening at BG Products Veterans Sports Complex.
Butler (4-2 overall, 4-1 conference) took advantage of a late third-quarter fumble by Independence, which led to a nine-yard touchdown pass from Trae Self to Kaden Davis to give the Grizzlies a 17-7 lead with 13:25 left in the game.
The Pirates would answer later in the quarter with a touchdown to pull within three points, but Independence's final drive failed to get past midfield against Butler's defense.
Self's touchdown pass to Davis was set up courtesy of Independence's Marqwell Odom, who fumbled a punt return which was recovered by Butler's Chod Morrow at the Pirates' 21-yard line. Butler took advantage of the turnover shortly after, as Self scrambled to his right to avoid the Pirate pass rush and found Davis open in the end zone for the score.
Independence would not go away quietly as quarterback Chase Hildreth hit a wide-open Bryson Cannon for a six-yard touchdown to pull the Pirates within three, 17-14, with under five minutes left.
Butler punted the ball back to the Pirates with 2:23 left on the clock at the Indy 15. Hildreth kept the Pirates alive by catching a 23-yard pass from Roy Livingstone on a trick play on 4th-and-14 with a minute remaining.
Independence made one more first down to move the ball near midfield, but the Pirates managed just four yards before Hildreth threw two incompletions and turned the ball over on downs.
Indy had the early momentum in the contest after returning a fumble on Butler's opening drive. Self completed a pass over the middle to Alex Bott to the Butler 28, who was then hit by a pair of Pirate defenders and lost the ball. Indy's Jamar Montgomery then picked up the ball and returned it to the Butler 9-yard line. Hildreth scored three plays later to give Independence a 7-0 lead just 3:07 into the game.
Butler responded with a four-play, 69-yard scoring drive behind three straight runs from Ja'kevious Vickers, who had runs of 26, 18 and nine yards. Makiya Caesar then ran 17 yards up the middle as the Grizzlies tied the contest.
Independence punted on the next drive, but a high snap forced punter Adam Barry to be tackled at the 2-yard line. Butler was held to a Tyler Zentner 27-yard field goal to give the Grizzlies a 10-7 lead with 6:54 left in the first quarter.
Butler's defense contained Independence for the remainder of the half as the Pirates had three straight punts, then had two consecutive drives end on turnover on downs. The Grizzlies created havoc in the Independence backfield with 14 tackles for losses and four sacks on the evening.
Even when Independence moved the ball, the offense failed to come away with points.
The Pirates had a 10-play, 66-yard drive midway through the second quarter that stalled on at the Butler 3 as Independence elected to go for a fourth-down pass that was incomplete.
In Indy's opening drive of the third quarter, the Pirates moved the ball down to the Butler 5 and settled for a 22-yard field goal attempt, which was blocked by Charlie Gray.
Grizzly linebacker Juwan Mitchell had a team-high 10 tackles with four solos, 2.5 tackles for losses and three quarterback hits. Linebacker Amare Barno and defensive back D'Anthony Bell each had nine tackles, while defensive ends Jacoby Jones and Jordan Smith both had three tackles for losses.
Caesar led the Grizzlies with 108 rushing yards on 12 carries, while Vickers had 66 yards on 14 carries. Davis was the top Butler receiver with three receptions on 35 yards. Independence's Davijuan Dean finished with 161 yards on the ground with 26 carries.
Butler's Self completed just 6-of-14 passes for 58 yards with a touchdown, while Hildreth finished 14-of-29 with 100 yards and one touchdown for Independence.
Next up for Butler will be a non-conference matchup against Air Force Prep on Saturday. Kickoff from BG Products Veterans Sports Complex will be at 7:00 p.m.
NOTES: Butler has now won 12 straight home games over Independence... The Grizzlies lead the overall series 54-25-3 against Independence... Butler's offensive line allowed no sacks for the first time this season. Independence's top two tacklers - linebacker Kuony Deng and defensive lineman Jermaine Johnson - finished with just two tackles each. Johnson has committed to the University of Georgia, while Deng has received numerous Power 5 offers from FBS schools.