The Garden City Community College Broncbusters know what’s on the line Saturday when the No. 14 Butler Grizzlies come to town.
It’s the same thing that’s been on the line since the Busters (9-0) moved up to No. 2 in the NJCAA poll on Sept. 25 — a national championship bid.
There’s no use in trying to ignore that now.
“Put it right in their face,” GCCC head coach Jeff Sims said of discussing the implications with his team ahead of the 1 p.m. kickoff at Broncbuster Stadium. “It’s not a matter of if we beat Butler, we go to the national championship. It’s, ‘We’re going to the national championship, unless Butler stops us.”
The Grizzlies (7-3) will be looking to do just that — as well as gain a share of the conference title, as Butler sits at 5-1 in the conference, and the Busters are 6-0.
A Butler win would tie the two squads, as well as Hutchinson, at 6-1, and the trio would share the league title.
Butler and Garden City are both coming off emotional, hard-fought games that came down to the final minutes. The Busters downed Hutchinson, 24-21, and Butler lost to No. 3 Iowa Western, 19-14, turning it over on downs with less than two minutes to play and inside Iowa Western territory.
“I would have loved to put in the film and be like, ‘These guys aren’t any good,’” Sims said of scouting Butler, “but I saw a team that is long and plays hard and has gotten better as the season has gone along.”
That improvement can especially be seen on the defensive side of the ball. The Grizzlies allowed 26, 27, 30 and 27 points in four of their first five games, but have not allowed more than 19 since, giving up just 13.6 points per game in their last five games.
“This group plays really hard,” Sims said. “Talk about getting 11 to the ball, they’re very sound.”
The unit is led be defensive end Jordan Smith, who has 62 tackles, 11 sacks and 18 ½ tackles for loss. He’s a three-star junior college prospect, according to 247sports.com.
That’s the second-consecutive stout challenge for the Buster offense, which struggled to move the ball against Hutchinson’s defense, posting its fewest rushing yards (181) in a game this season.
“Hutch was a really talented defense with a lot of Division I players,” Sims said. “Butler is talented, but they play really, really hard.”
Though, Butler’s run defense has not quite been as stout as Hutchinson’s. The Grizzlies are allowing 109.2 yards per game, behind both Garden City (102.6) and Hutchinson (69.2).
When the run wasn’t working, however, the Busters were able to rely on quarterback David Moore’s arm in the 14-play, 84-yard drive in the final minutes of last Saturday’s game. Moore threw for 76 yards on the drive — nearly matching the Busters’ average per game (97.6) — and the 6-yard game-winning touchdown to Charles West.
Butler’s defense is allowing a KJCCC-best 152.9 yards per game.
The Butler offense, meanwhile, has been middle of the road in the KJCCC. The Grizzlies are rushing for 167.5 yards per game (4th in the KJCCC) and throwing for 148.1 (5th in the KJCCC).
The running game is helmed by the two-headed attack of sophomore running backs Ja’kevious Vickers (4.4 ypc, 4 TDs) and Mikya Caesar (6.1 ypc, 4 TDs). Quarterback Trae Self is completing fewer than 50 percent of his passes (114 of 239) for 13 touchdowns and five picks.
But he’s thrown for a 70-yard touchdown this season and is picking up 13 yards per completion. The Buster defense has struggled at stopping big plays, giving up a trio of long touchdowns to Hutchinson Saturday, a 52-yard pass and runs of 97 and 18 yards.
Sims sees the defense’s ability to rebound from allowing those big plays as a strength.
“We need to focus on each drive, each play, no matter what happens on the field,” he said. “We need to snap them into, ‘Let’s focus on this next series.’”
That’s how the Busters can avoid getting beat Saturday, Sims said, and stop Butler from doing to GCCC what the Busters did to Butler in 2015, when GCCC denied the top-ranked Grizzlies a national championship shot with an upset win on Butler’s home field.