In a heavyweight matchup featuring two NJCAA Top 10 teams, #6 Snow (Utah) proved to be no match for 10th-ranked Butler, as the Grizzlies jumped out to a 26-0 first-half lead and came away with a 36-17 home victory at BG Products Veterans Sports Complex.
Grizzly sophomore running back Grahm Roberts rushed for 102 yards and one touchdown, while sophomore Brock Sturges gained 89 yards on 21 carries and scored twice for Butler (2-0 overall). Through the air, sophomore quarterback Steven Frank completed 15-of-22 passes for 218 yards and two scores for Butler.
Complimenting the Grizzly offense was the play-making turnover ability of Butler's defense, who forced five Snow turnovers – including four interceptions of Badgers quarterback Braxton Kerr.
After missing a field goal on its opening possession, Butler's offense sliced through the Snow defense for touchdowns on four consecutive scoring drives for a 26-0 lead.
"We kept them off the scoreboard until late and that was a big thing," said Butler head coach Tim Schaffner. "You have to explain that to the team, it's kind of like an NFL game, these teams are so talented you just have to bleed the clock and don't give up big plays and eventually, they are going to run out of possessions."
Sturges was the workhorse during Butler's first scoring drive in the first quarter, which started from the Grizzly 30-yard line. Frank moved the Grizzlies past midfield with a 24-yard pass to Grahm Roberts, then Frank connected with Jermaine Ziegler for a 14-yard gain to the Snow 27. Sturges carried the ball for the final five plays of an 11-play, 70-yard drive, as he scored from two yards out to put Butler in front 7-0.
Snow (1-1) punted back to Butler near midfield, but a Badgers' personal foul on the play allowed the Grizzlies to start from the Snow 32-yard line. Two plays later, Roberts ran up the middle and made his way to the left-corner of the end zone for a 27-yard rushing score.
Up 13-0 after the opening quarter, Butler added two Frank passing touchdowns to pad its lead. Frank hit Romello Kimbrough over the middle for a 14-yard touchdown just four seconds into the second quarter.
Butler then had its longest scoring drive of the game – 11 plays, 77 yards – capped by a sensational one-handed snag in the end zone by wide receiver George Qualls, who had a Snow defender draped over him. Frank set up the touchdown with a 24-yard pass to Qualls early in the drive, then he found Ke'John Batiste for a 21-yard reception to the Badgers' 20.
Two plays later, Frank hit Qualls for a 12-yard touchdown on the near sideline of the end zone, as Qualls went up in the air with the defender and grabbed the ball with his right hand for the score.
Snow finally got on the board with a 24-yard field goal from Jose Pizano with 2:07 before the break, as Butler led 26-3.
The Grizzlies had the turnover bug hit during their first two possessions of the second half, as Frank threw a pair of interceptions. However, Butler kept Snow out of the end zone – with Kway'Chon Chisom picking off a pass and returning it 26 yards to midfield on the Badgers' first drive, then the Grizzlies forced a turnover on downs when Snow's offense stalled at the Butler 17.
Butler finally got back on the scoreboard following a Parker Bruce interception at the Grizzly 38-yard line. The Grizzlies chipped away with a 9-play, 49-yard drive ending with a 30-yard field goal from Taiten Winkel for a 29-3 Butler lead with 31 seconds left in the third quarter.
Snow reached paydirt for its first touchdown on the ensuing drive, as Kerr found Tejhaun Palmer for a 16-yard touchdown with 12:18 remaining in the contest. The Badgers then gained momentum after recovering a Pizano onside kick. However, the Grizzly defense shut the momentum down when Ian McSwain picked off a pass just two plays into the Snow drive.
"We had mentioned the onside kick," said Schaffner. "We were ready for it and they get it and that was frustrating, but for us to come back and get that pick, that was huge, that was a big play."
Butler ended up punting back to the Badgers, but a muffed punt by Snow's Bryce Hampton at the 15-yard line rolled backwards. Butler's Shareal Taylor pounced on the loose ball, giving the Grizzlies possession at the Snow 3.
Butler needed just one play to put the game well out of reach, with Sturges going untouched up the middle and scoring from three yards out for a 36-10 Grizzly lead with 10:06 left.
Roberts and Sturges combined for 37 of the Grizzlies' 52 rushing attempts, with the duo averaging 5.2 yards on the ground. Darius Timmons added eight carries for just 10 yards for Butler, who finished with 195 yards on the ground.
"It is crucial now to have three running backs all getting carries for us," Schaffner said. "Where it is going to really pay dividends is towards the end of the season when we play those big games at the end of the year and these guys haven't taken all the hits all year long."
Qualls led the Grizzlies with three receptions for 70 yards, while Ziegler caught five passes for 34 yards.
Snow finished with more first downs (26-22) than the Grizzlies, but Butler had a +3 on the turnover battle, outgained the Badgers 413 to 372 and won the time of possession battle by over seven minutes.
Butler will now begin conference play with a home contest Saturday against #16 Highland (1-1 overall, 0-1 conference), who picked up a 21-0 home shutout win over Ellsworth. The Scotties dropped its season opener 20-16 at Fort Scott back on Aug. 24. Kickoff from BG Products Veterans Sports Complex is at 7:00 p.m.
NOTES: Butler improved to 3-1 all-time against Snow. The meeting was not only the first time the two programs met in El Dorado, but it was the first contest since Butler defeated Snow in a thrilling 37-30 double-overtime battle for the 2008 NJCAA National Championship game in Utah… Butler is 2-0 for the third time under Tim Schaffner. The Grizzlies won their first two games during Schaffner's first two seasons as head coach in 2015-16… Butler will find itself near the top of the NJCAA rankings when the first regular season poll is released Tuesday. Not only have the Grizzlies registered wins against preseason-ranked opponents, but both opponents have knocked off two of the top teams. Snow defeated #3 Garden City 30-27 in last week's opener, while Butler's opening victim, Iowa Central, stunned #2 Iowa Western 28-26 on Saturday. Five of the top six teams in the NJCAA preseason poll – including top-ranked East Mississippi, who had a 17-game winning streak snapped with a 24-16 loss to Holmes (Miss.) on Thursday – all have at least one loss just two weeks into the season.