Ninth-ranked Independence Pirates sink Grizzlies in final seconds

Charles Chaney
Butler County Times Gazette
Butler’s Eddie Lewis makes a run down the sideline in Friday night’s season opening game against Independence Community College. The Sophomore led the Grizzlies with five receptions for 136 yards and a touchdown in the 31-24 loss to Indy.

INDEPENDENCE, Kansas—The Butler Grizzlies completed the comeback but could not stop the comeback from the ninth-ranked Independence Pirates on Friday night. 

Sophomore Tavion Thomas scored with 47 seconds remaining to give Independence the seven-point advantage and Butler had trouble getting the final playoff as the Pirates knocked off seventh-ranked Butler 31-24 to open the spring JUCO season.

“Our guys showed real grit tonight,” Butler Head Coach Tim Schaffner said. “They had every opportunity to quit but they didn’t. I can tell you this won’t happen again.”

In July, the NJCAA made the decision to move almost all of their sports to the spring semester, with the exception of cross country. While the Mississippi football teams chose to play in the fall, the Butler-Indy game marked the first spring football game of the season. 

Independence (1-0) made the tough decision to go for it on a 4th-and-1 from the Butler 31-yard line with 55 seconds remaining. The cunning play of Brock Dormann drew a Butler defender offsides, giving the Pirates new life and they would make Butler pay.

“That was Alex Farah, our offensive coordinator,” first-year Independence Head Coach  Jason Martin said. “He’s been using it to make our defense more discipline and we used it to our advantage tonight.”

On the very next play, Thomas took the ball up the right side, cut up and found his way into the end zone for the go-ahead score with 47 seconds remaining.

“I looked at where we were and how our defense was playing,” Martin said. “I knew we could either get the first down or we would trust in our defense.”

The trust paid off.

Thomas finished with 172 yards  on 15 carries and four touchdowns for Independence. 

It had been a game that had been almost six months in the making and it lived up to the hype despite Independence jumping out to a 17-0 lead in the first quarter.

“We looked like a bunch of guys that had never played a college game before,” Schaffner said. “It was a lack of mental focus.”

Butler (0-1) was called for four offsides penalties on the night, including the fourth down play that gave Independence a new set of downs. 

It wasn’t always a lack of mental focus for Butler. They moved the ball went in the first half but came up with miscues such as a missed field goal and a fumble. All would turn around and lead to Indy points unfortunately. 

All of that could have let Butler crumble, falling behind 17-0 in the first quarter with Thomas running wild on the Butler defense but they fought. 

Butler secured a field goal that careened off the right upright as time expired at halftime to bring the Grizzlies within 17-3. 

“I had a pretty good feeling we weren’t as bad as what we played early,” Schaffner said. 

Sophomore Nick Davenport wasted little time starting up in the second half, finding Eddie Lewis on the 78-yard streak to the end zone to bring Butler within 17-10 with 14:09 remaining.

Lewis would finish with 136 yards on five catches and a touchdown.

On the ensuing kickoff, Butler’s Tavi Agnew recovered the kick off, setting up Butler in great field position. Butler went three plays and it was Kontavae McDonald touchdown to tie the game up, resetting the ball game.

Indy would score on a 2-yard run by Thomas for his third touchdown of the day to send the game into the fourth with an even, 24-all score.

Butler milked almost three minutes off the clock before having to put and give it back to Independence for their final drive of the night. 

Indy would go on a march to give them lead with 47 seconds remaining.

The Grizzlies swapped quarterbacks all evening, with Gavin Screws getting the final nod. He drove Butler down to the Indy 35-yard line. However, a false start penalty and then inability to get out of bounds forced Butler to hurry to the line with 10 seconds remaining. However, miscommunication on the play led six seconds run off before the snap and the pass fell short as time expired.

“What hurt even more as we had the lead and a chance to put them away,” Schaffner said. 

Butler starts the season 0-1 for the first time since 2018, when they lost to Iowa Central in Fort Dodge, 26-16. Butler would roll off seven wins in their next eight games. 

Butler was also without Adarius Thomas, who appeared to be nursing an injury. His time table is unknown at this point.

The schedule doesn’t let up for Butler as they host No. 1 Hutchinson on Saturday, April 3 at BG Products Veterans Sports Complex. 

Last season, the Blue Dragons beat Butler is a battle of No. 1 vs. No. 2, with multiple players being suspended from both teams due to a fight that happened after the game. 

“I think our guys will learn you can’t take a week off in this league,” Schaffner said. 

Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.

Charles Chaney has been the Sports Editor for the Butler County Times-Gazette since Aug. 2019. You can reach him at cchaney@butlercountytimesgazette.com or on Twitter at @ChuckChaneyBCTG.