By Mike Pilosof
Photo by Adam Shrimplin
Garden City, KS-When the curtain finally drops on the 2021 season, Head Coach Tom Minnick will agonize on what could have been. And on Saturday, with the stakes as high as they've been all season, Garden City's national playoff hopes evaporated into the thick fall afternoon sky.
Gavin Screws threw for 111 yards and a touchdown, Adarius Thomas and Paris Brown each scored on the ground, and Butler upset No. 10 Garden City, 24-23 at Broncbuster Stadium. With the loss, the brown and gold finished fifth in the conference and will open the Jayhawk playoffs at Hutchinson on Sunday.
"We hurt ourselves with untimely penalties," Minnick said afterwards. "That's the disappointing part. We just have to be better; all of us."
The penalties were definitely Garden City's undoing, and none of them will resonate more than a call made by referee, Kyle Sommer in the final minute of Saturday's showdown.
With the Broncbusters trailing 24-17 with 6:17 remaining, freshman quarterback Rhett Ricedorff engineered what appeared to be a season-saving drive. 11 plays covered 68 yards in just over five minutes. And it included some theatrics. On third-and-5 from the Butler 46, Ricedorff zipped a pass to David Elder right at the sticks. Four plays after that on fourth-and-8, the signal caller riffled a strike to Keyshawn Buckley, who ducked out of bounds after moving the chains. Then, with the anxiety-level in the stadium at a palpable pitch, Ricedorff saved his best throw of the game for last. On third-and-9 at the Grizzlies' 28, he dropped back and looked left before a shoulder fake froze safety Jaxon Gibbs just enough to create the adequate space needed. Moments later, Ricedorff lobbed a rainbow to Elder in the end zone, pulling the Broncbusters to within one with 1:14 remaining. But the loud cheers were quickly replaced with a sudden gasp once the officials called an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on defensive end Raymond Cutts, who was flagged for celebrating the score with his teammates.
"I don't even know what to say about that," Minnick said.
Whether the penalty was warranted or not, it was a crushing blow to what should have been a chippy extra-point attempt. Instead, William Greig pushed what amounted to a 38-yard field goal wide right.
"I can't remember losing a game like this," Minnick said. "It's disheartening for sure."
The ensuing onside kick was easily snatched up by Darius Lassiter, who put the game on ice with a 27-yard return down the right sideline.
"There were so many plays that decided this game," Minnick explained. "But, when it comes down to it, we did this to ourselves."
The loss was a stinging reminder of just how much parity there is in the Jayhawk Conference. It also, inexplicably, dropped Minnick's squad to 0-3 at home this season.
"We play better on the road for some reason," Minnick said. "Maybe we should stay in hotels from now on."
The unfortunate part was that this game was filled with questionable calls. On Butler's opening drive, the Broncbusters appeared to get off the field on third-and-6 after AJ King dropped Screws' lline-drive third-down pass. But Jacob Hollins, who hit King a split-second after he fumbled the ball, was flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that extended the drive. Three plays later, Brown powered in from three yards out to give the Grizzlies a 7-0 advantage.
"We just put ourselves in bad positions all day," Minnick stated.
Garden City was penalized nine times for 61 yards, which included four backbreaking false start penalties that came at the most inopportune times. Still, Garden City shook off those infractions and a shaky start to climb out of a 14-3 hole. William Knight polished off an 11-play, 73-yard drive with a four-yard rushing touchdown before the half, and after Carson Arndt's 47-yard field goal extended Butler's lead midway through the third, Dedrick Tablert punched it in from two yards out to tie the game.
"Considering all the flags, I thought we gave ourselves a chance to win the game," Minnick added.
With less than 10 minutes remaining and the score knotted at 17, the Broncbusters got the ball back at their own 20. But after Ricedorff completed a pass to Shawn Charles on third-and-6, linebacker MJ Cunningham made arguably the play of the game. On first-and-10 at their own 38, the sophomore jumped in front of a slant to snag a one-handed interception. It was a momentum-shifting pick that gave Butler possession at the Garden City 41.
"That was just a heck of a play," Minnick said.
With the Grizzlies driving, Aaron Cheatwood's defense had a chance to get off the field. It was fourth-and-6, and Butler offensive coordinator Brice Vignery had the perfect play design. Following a timeout, the seventh-year assistant called a wheel route, which had burned Garden City all afternoon. Screws looked that direction momentarily, which brought the linebackers up, creating a one-on-one-scenario in the secondary. The Troy transfer took full advantage, hitting Daevon Robinson, who beat Chris Smith, in the end zone for the go-ahead score with 6:19 left.
Ricedorff finished 24-of-34 for 191 yards, one touchdown and one interception for Garden City. Knight totaled 48 yards and a score on the ground, and Elder caught six balls for 58 and a touchdown.
Screws was 11-of-23 for 111 yards and a touchdown for Butler, which won in Garden City for the first time since Oct. 25, 2014. Thomas carried the ball 15 times for 89 yards and a score.
Next up: Garden City at Hutchinson-Sunday, Nov. 7-1 p.m.