It’s finally here.
No. 2 Garden City Community College and No. 4 Hutchinson will match up at noon Saturday at Hutchinson's Gowans Stadium in a game that’s been highly anticipated since the end of September, when both teams entered the top 10 of the NJCAA rankings.
All both teams have done since is win.
The Blue Dragons (8-1) enter the game off a bye week, and they’ve been focused on the Broncbusters (8-0) the entire time.
“We ready, man,” Hutchinson linebacker Monty Montgomery told The Hutchinson News on Oct. 22.
They better be, considering this might be the biggest KJCCC game in nearly a decade — when No. 1 Butler played No. 2 Hutchinson on Oct. 23, 2010.
“At Garden City, it is probably the biggest regular season game we’ve played,” GCCC head coach Jeff Sims said of his four years at the helm, “because of where it falls in the schedule and the rankings and stuff.”
The “stuff” portion of that is the national and conference implications. Both teams enter the game undefeated in conference play. Hutchinson is 6-0, and a win Saturday would seal a conference title, while Garden City is 5-0 and a win would guarantee at least a share of a conference title — they still have Butler to close out the season on Nov. 10.
Meanwhile, the Busters are in line for a national championship bowl bid at No. 2, just behind No. 1 East Mississippi. The Blue Dragons are behind No. 3 Iowa Western, which edged the Dragons, 33-24, on Sept. 8.
But Hutchinson has been perfect since, winning six consecutive games.
“It’s very exciting,” sophomore running back Dezmon Jackson said. “We’ve been looking forward to this game for a while. We knew at the beginning of the season it was going to be special.”
Both teams are in the top 10 in scoring offenses in the NJCAA, with the Busters’ top rushing attack managing 39.4 points per game and the Dragons’ more balanced attack 38.4.
On defense, it is nearly as even, with the Dragons allowing just 15.6 points per game (sixth in the NJCAA) and the Busters 17.7 (14th in the NJCAA).
“They’re solid at every position,” Sims said of the Dragons. “There’s not any weaknesses. They’re good everywhere and great at some positions.”
The Dragons are great at stopping the run, too, a much-needed ability against a Buster rushing attack that’s averaging an NJCAA-best 327.4 yards per game. The Dragons are allowing just 56.8 on the ground, fourth-best in the NJCAA.
The Busters also will be back at full strength in the backfield, Sims said, after running back Charles West missed last week’s game at Coffeyville with a “nagging injury.”
West is joined by Nebraska commit Dedrick Mills — the duo are averaging more than 150 rushing yards each per game.
Hutchinson’s defense is led by sophomore linebacker Caliph Brice, who has 53 tackles, 1.5 sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss, and sophomore lineman Clarence Hicks, who has 10 sacks.
But if the front of Hutchinson is able to slow the Busters’ run game, Sims is confident in his passing game and quarterback David Moore.
“I think our quarterback has proven he’s the best quarterback in the league,” he said. “We don’t have any problem throwing the football. We just haven’t been in a position where we’ve had to.”
Moore did throw for 200 yards on 12-of-17 passing against Iowa Central two weeks ago, but he’s not thrown the ball more than 19 times in a game all season.
Meanwhile, the Hutchinson offense is averaging 203 yards on the ground and 185 through the air. Quarterback Mason Schucker is completing less than 50 percent of his passes and has 11 touchdowns to six interceptions.
Jackson leads the running game with 101.2 yards per game and 10 touchdowns.
The Busters defense is allowing 261 yards per game (15th in the NJCAA), but only 92 on the ground (10th).
“We’re very hard-working, and we’re very intelligent,” Sims said of his defense. “I don’t know we’re the most talented defense I’ve ever seen … but their effort level is elite. But there are times that if we make a mistake, we can get beat.”
They’ll have to avoid that Saturday — after all, it’s likely only the biggest game many of the players on both sides of the field have ever played.