By Mike Pilosof
Photo by Adam Shrimpliln
Garden City, KS-Regardless of what happens next week, Sunday's victory may go down as one of the sweetest in recent memory. Oh yeah, payback is, well, you know.
Rhett Ricedorff threw for 159 yards and two scores, Dedrick Talbert hit the century mark on the ground, and Garden City beat Butler 27-16 in the Jayhawk Conference semifinals at Broncbuster Stadium. With the win, Garden City advances to play Hutchinson in the Championship Game Sunday at Riverfront Stadium in Wichita.
"We told our guys that we just need to keep winning," Head Coach, Tom Minnick said afterwards. "After that, whatever happens, happens."
This was far from a masterpiece as the two teams combined for 33 penalties and 249 yards. But after an anxiety-driven regular-season finale, one that saw Butler escape with a one-point victory only to forfeit the game because of an ineligible player, Garden City got their redemption two weeks later.
Truth be told, the game should never have been that close. The Broncbusters held the ball for more than 40 minutes and sacked Grizzlies' quarterback Gavin Screws six times. They also limited the visitors to just 226 total yards and held them to 3-of-12 on third down.
"Our defense played really well," Minnick explained. "We just need to finish drives better."
Things started a bit inauspiciously for the Broncbusters after William Greig's punt was blocked by Quijoun Gordon and bounced out of the back of the end zone for a safety. But the Grizzlies never took advantage of the free kick, and Xavier Peters ripped down Screws for a loss of five on third down.
"Sometimes, we just have to get out of our own way," Minnick stated.
Jason Hernandez got Garden City on the board with a 26-yard field goal later in the period, which was followed by Keylon Kennedy's dazzling 24-yard punt return that set the Broncbusters up first-and-goal at the 3. Two plays later, Talbert rumbled into the end zone to give Garden City a 10-2 advantage with 2:36 to play in the first.
"We had some guys hurt, but our offensive line, for the most part, played well," Minnick said.
The Grizzlies made things tight early in the second quarter when Screws floated a perfect pass to TCU-transfer Karter Johnson, who beat Chris Smith for a 23-yard touchdown that trimmed Garden City's lead to 10-9.
"This team has fought through a lot of things this year, and we did it again today," Minnick explained.
Later in the quarter, the Broncbusters answered with a big defensive play when Kevin Abrams-Verwayne stripped Screws and returned the fumble to the Butler 3. Two plays after that, Ricedorff connected with Fuafiva Tulafale for a 12-yard score, giving Garden City a 17-9 advantage.
"Rhett has been arguably the best quarterback in the league all season," Minnick said. "He's made a ton of big throws."The Broncbusters had a chance to extend the lead before the half after moving the ball to the Grizzlies' 24. But on fourth-and-1 with less than two minutes to go, Ricedorff was sacked by Blake Barron, turning the ball over on downs. They were up eight at the break.
On Butler's first possession of the third, Darius Johnson knocked the ball out of Adarius Thomas's hands, and Raymond Cutts recovered at the Grizzlies' 8. But Garden City could only muster a field goal that stretched the lead to 20-9.
Butler made things interesting from there.
The next time Brice Vignery's offense had the ball, they took a rare deep shot. Screws dropped back and uncorked a home-run ball to Jordan Kempf, who caught it in stride for a 60-yard touchdown that pulled the visitors within four, 20-16 with 7:03 remaining in the quarter.
"We let them hang around a little too much again," Minnick said.
The Grizzlies had a chance to take the lead following a Broncbuster three-and-out, marching to the Garden City 1. But Screws third-down pass to Johnson was incomplete, and Kempf was stuffed by Eilye Oshaye-Hill on fourth-and-goal at the 1.
"That's the game right there," Minnick said. "We had to stop them there, and we did."
Garden City didn't score points on their ensuing possession, but they took nearly eight minutes off the clock. Then, midway through the final period, Ricedorff engineered a 10-play, 46-yard drive that ate up another six minutes. He converted a fourth-and-6 at the Butler 31 when he hit Devion Hodges for 14. Then on fourth-and-3 at the Grizzlies' 10, the freshman signal caller improvised, and with Butler's defensive front bearing down, he checked it off to David Elder, who sprinted 10 yards for the clinching score.
"I'm so proud of these guys," Minnick said. "With all the adversity this year, this team stuck together, and now they have a chance to play for a conference title."
The Broncbusters won the game despite putting up their lowest offensive output of the season with just 238 total yards. But the defense held up its end of the bargain, forcing two critical turnovers while holding Butler to just 33 yards rushing on 29 carries.
Ricedorff finished 15-of-24 for Garden City, who will play in their first Jayhawk Conference Championship Game in 20 years. Martiel Singleton had two catches for 32 yards, and Johnson recorded five tackles, one sack, and a forced fumble.
Screws was 10-of-22 for 193 yards and two touchdowns for Butler, which finished 1-9, their most losses in a season since 1973.
Next up: Garden City vs. Hutchinson-Jayhawk Conference Championship-Sunday, Nov. 21-1 p.m. CDT at Riverfront Stadium in Wichita. For tickets, visit https://mpv.tickets.com/?agency=MILB_MPV&orgid=54956&pid=8996528#/event/8996528/seatmap/?selectBuyers=false&minPrice=15&maxPrice=20&quantity=2&sort=price_desc&ada=false&seatSelection=true&onlyCoupon=true&onlyVoucher=false