1. More likely: The first to 21 points wins or both team combining for 90 points?
Kelton: This honestly could play out in both ways. Garden City and Hutchinson can score in all three phases of the game, but both teams want to run the ball downhill and play sound defense. Garden City has two 1,000 yard rushers and Hutchinson uses a plethora of running backs featuring Dezmon Jackson. In a game of this magnitude, I can't see the Blue Dragons relying on freshman quarterback Mason Schucker. First to 21 wins.
Levi: I’d be stunned if either team reaches 35 points. So getting to 90 combined is out of the question. Usually in the KJCCC, when two elite teams meet, it’s the defenses that win out. The Busters and Iowa Western combined for a total of 29 points earlier this season. Hutchinson has had similar scores against Highland and Coffeyville and hasn’t reached 30 against any of the top teams on its schedule. This is going to be low-scoring.
2. Who has the coaching advantage?
Kelton: The No. 4 ranked Blue Dragons and No. 2 ranked Broncbusters have a combined record of 16-1. Both Garden City coach Jeff Sims and Hutchinson coach Rion Rhoades have obviously been successful thus far having their teams in the top five of the NJCAA rankings. Their philosophies on the field aren't much different as both coaches aim to deploy a physical style of play. I'll go with Sims, who has been there before. He led GCCC to a national championship and an undefeated season (11-0) in 2016.
Levi: It’s Jeff Sims vs. any coach in the NJCAA ranks. And that’s perhaps because I’m obviously much more familiar with Sims’ program than any others, but he always has interesting wrinkles he can throw at opponents in big games. He also is perfect in managing the clock and finding the right time for going for blocked punts or fake punts.
3. Which under-the-radar player is most likely to make a game-breaking play?
Kelton: This fits the mold of Hutchinson tight end Leroy Watson. In another offense, I think he would get the attention as a top tight end target. He is an athletic option in the middle of the field, but he's seldom used with just six catches on the season. Watson has one touchdown, which came on a 24-yard catch and run. He's also a dependable inline blocker who opens holes in the running game.
Levi: For Garden City, it’s cornerback Trae Meadows. The North Carolina State transfer scored the Busters’ only touchdown in their win over Iowa Western on a pick-6. He seems to have a knack to always being around the ball, racking up 11 pass breakups. Statistically speaking, that amount of breakups is going to result in another interception soon. And with as close as the Dragons and Busters seem to match up, an interception could be the difference in this one.
4. Who wins?
Kelton: Garden City, 19-17. Hutchinson will also need to find more success in the passing game to complete passes downfield to receivers Jaylen Erwin and Khalil McClain, but in this heavyweight bout, Hutchinson won't put the ball in the hands of its freshman quarterback enough times against a formidable Garden City defense.
Levi: Garden City, 23-20. The Busters may need to complete a few more passes than they’re used to this season (97.5 passing yards per game), but I think they pull it out with a late touchdown.