Bizarre season ends for Butler football

Lionel Tipton
A butler football receiver is tackled by a Garden City

EL DORADO, Kansas—It was quite an appropriate finish to what probably ranks as the most bizarre football season in Butler’s storied history.

After Saturday night’s game, there was the customary scene of players, coaches and families gathering in the Grizzlies’ end zone. 

However, in most football seasons, this scenario – with everyone in short sleeves and light jackets – would take place at the beginning of the football season, not the season finale.

Garden City (7-1, 6-1), ranked fifth in the NJCAA national poll, utilized a crushing running attack to score a 52-40 victory over Butler, saddling the Grizzlies with a final 2-4 season mark.

In a season in which Fort Scott prematurely ended its season and a game against Arkansas Baptist was canceled, Butler only got in six games.

And, no official word has been received that Jayhawk Conference football will be resuming in the fall.

One thing is certain for Butler and coach Tim Schaffner: Next season and its preparation begins Sunday.

Garden City rushed for an astounding 480 yards on 43 carries, the majority of its 592 yards of total offense. 

On the other hand, the Grizzlies had 478 yards of total offense – 283 on the ground.

Even though the Grizzlies trailed by as many as 19 points, they frequently were able to quickly answer a Garden City score with a touchdown of their own.

Consider:

  • The Broncbusters opened the scoring on a 2-yard run by quarterback Mike Irwin with 10:46 left in the first quarter. Only 1:13 later, Butler sophomore running back Tevin Petrie scored on a 40-yard run,
  • After a Garden City field goal with 14:10 left until halftime, another Grizzlies sophomore running back Kevontae McDonald broke away for a 53-yard score just 51 seconds later.
  • In the third quarter, Garden’s Devion Hodges scored with 4:04 left in the period. Butler countered with a 16-yard score by McDonald only 1:12 later.
  • Hodges raced 61 yards for a score with 1:14 remaining in the period, but Petrie answered just 39 seconds later with a 42-yard TD.
  • Finally, in a passing duel, Irwin hit Khameron Laborn for a 5-yard score with 1:14 left in the game, but Grizzlies sophomore quarterback Nick Davenport connected with freshman Karter Johnson for a 39-yard score that provided the final margin.

“That was awesome by our offense,” Schaffner said. “That’s good and bad, because we’re trying to make adjustments defensively to try to stop the bleeding – and I’m never going to tell them not to score – but sometimes we didn’t have a chance to stop the bleeding before we were back out there.”

Before Saturday’s game, Garden City’s defense hadn’t surrendered more than 24 points in a game, yielding that many in a 34-24 victory May 1 over Dodge City. Even the Broncbusters’ lone loss was a 23-7 defeat to top-ranked Hutchinson.

The fact that Butler could get that close to a potent Broncbusters team was a prime takeaway for Schaffner, and could be a valuable building block for next season – whenever that occurs.

“Putting up 40 points on Garden, which no one else had done all year (was a positive),” he said. “I told (the players) at the end that there’s not a lot to say about this game, but I did tell them that we really haven’t been able to put together a complete game yet this season. 

“In the few instances that we have, we’ve been really good. But when one side completely either doesn’t show up or is dominated, then it’s a struggle. There are pieces to build on, but we need a few more pieces as well.”

Like their counterparts at the four-year level, the pandemic has opened up some extra eligibility for community college players, Schaffner said. 

Only a few of the current Butler players would not have the option of returning next season, even if they are sophomores, he said. 

“I know there’s four or five, for sure, they’ve simply exhausted classes and they have a home to go to,” Schaffner said. “But because of all the changes in the last 15 months, there are a bunch of them that could go. If they have nowhere to go, they’re going to be welcomed back with open arms.

“We could have a bunch of them come back, but there’s some that have taken too many classes and can’t stay in junior college any longer.

“There will be a bunch of guys who will be back in a year.”

This kind of uncertainty makes it virtually impossible to determine which team would be a preseason favorite, he said, because the status of who’s returning and who isn’t would affect that.

“I’m thinking what’s going to be going on here will be similar to what’s going on everywhere else,” Schaffner said. “A lot of the teams are going to look really similar.”

As to whether football will revert to a fall season, that would suit Schaffner just fine, he said.

“I sure hope so,” he said.

The topsy-turvy nature of this season has turned a few conventions on their ear, but Schaffner said it’s the same for everyone.

“Hopefully it’s normal like last year (fall 2019), because I like it when things are normal,” he said. 

The spring schedule has forced Grizzlies football to share the spotlight – even on their own campus. Butler’s softball team is heading to nationals, and the baseball and women’s soccer teams have had some great moments as well.

“Baseball’s playing to go to the (NJCAA) World Series (the Grizzlies fell in the Region VI final Saturday to Cowley); soccer’s playing (Sunday in the Region VI championship game against Barton County) to go to the next step; softball’s already got their spot,” he said.

So many sports going simultaneously puts a burden on trainers and the administration, Schaffner said.

“Those guys are non-stop 24/7, because there’s something going on every night,” he said.

Regardless of when it’s played, it always seems like fans will turn out for a football game, and Saturday night was no exception.

“I was really pleased with the attendance,” Schaffner said. “People who love this country love football, and especially to this area, and we want to put a better product out there for them the next time we take the field.

“We’ll be looking forward to it, I know that.”