CEDAR FALLS, Iowa—Four turnovers doomed the Butler football team as the Grizzlies fell 27-7 to top-ranked Iowa Western in the NJCAA National Championship Game played Sunday afternoon at the UNI-Dome.
The No. 2-ranked Grizzlies threw four interceptions, two each by Billy Cosh and Tyler Harrison. The game turned on the second of those turnovers, putting the Grizzlies in a hole they could not overcome.
Trailing 7-0 late in the second quarter, Butler had the ball inside Iowa Western territory. Cosh tried a pass over the middle that was caught by Iowa Western's James Garlock. He returned the ball 88 yards for a touchdown on the final play of the first half.
Not only did the play give Iowa Western a 14-0 lead at halftime, but it also resulted in an injury to Cosh, who was hurt trying to make the tackle at the goal line.
With Cosh out of the game, Butler turned to Harrison. His first pass was intercepted on the first drive of the third quarter. Iowa Western would take advantage and score its third touchdown of the game, this one on a 1-yard run by Don Jackson, making the score 21-0.
Butler would turn to the running game and pounded the ball at Iowa Western on the ground, going 54 yards on 13 plays to move inside the Iowa Western 10-yard line. Butler was on the cusp of scoring its first touchdown, but another interception, this one at the 1-yard line, stymied the drive.
The Grizzlies did finally get on the scoreboard with 8:27 to play in the game. Harrison completed a beautiful play-action pass to Devin Clarke to get to the 1-yard line and this time Harrison finished the drive with a 1-yard QB sneak for the score.
Despite Butler's offensive struggles, the Grizzlies defense held Iowa Western well below their season average. The Reivers scored just one offensive touchdown in the first half, that coming late in the second half, and had just 100 yards of offense in the first half. The Reivers had allowed only five quarterback sacks all season, but Jake Waters was sacked six times by the Grizzlies on Sunday.
Ufomba Kamalu had 12 tackles for the Grizzlies, including 2.5 sacks, while Josh Kirkland and Blake Bean had 11 tackles apiece, each with a sack.
Individually, Derrick Thomas was Butler's leader offensively with 21 carries for 108 yards. It is his third straight game with more than 100 yards rushing. Billy Cosh completed seven of 20 passes for 31 yards before his injury and Harrison was 3-6 passing for 53 yards.
Butler finished the season with an 11-1 record after winning their third consecutive Jayhawk Conference and Region VI championships with undefeated records. The Grizzlies will likely finish No. 2 in the final national poll for the third consecutive season. Butler was playing in its 10th national title game, going for its seventh national title. Iowa Western's national title is its first in school history. The program is only in its fourth season of existence.
"I know our guys gave everything they had. I'm very proud of players, it just wasn't our day," Butler coach Troy Morrell said. "Hats off to Iowa Western. They played a great game and were the better team today, that's for sure.
"I love this team. We had a tremendous season and marched right through the conference, scoring a tremendous amount of points and shutting people down. We have a lot to be proud of."
Among those things to be proud of, Morrell said, is the incredible support of Butler fans, who nearly matched the number of home-state fans in the stands at the national title game despite an eight-hour drive to Cedar Falls. Those fans remained in the stands after the game, standing and cheering for the Butler players.
"That means a lot," Morrell said. "We have tremendous fans and support. That's why we get to these games. Thanks to all of them, I just wish we could have gotten it done for them today."