By Mike Piloosf
Garden City, KS-When Jeff Sims stood in front of his team a week before their season opener with Dodge City, he was very direct in his message.
"I don't know if you guys will win a game this season," he said. "It doesn't look promising."
Well, so far, they've won all of them, and on Saturday, continued one of the most dominant stretches in program history.
Charles West ran for 179 yards and a touchdown, the Broncbusters held the ball for nearly 40 minutes again, and No. 2 Garden City captured the outright Jayhawk Conference title for the second time in three years with a 22-10 victory over 14th-ranked Butler. With the win, the Broncbusters clinched a spot in the National Championship Game where they will face off with No. 1 East Mississippi on Thursday, Nov. 29 in Pittsburg, KS.
"It's an unbelievable feeling," defensive end Kahari Foy-Walton said after the game. "Second time in three years; that's a big deal for Garden City."
The Broncbusters took down the Grizzlies for a fourth straight time, something they had not done since the mid 1990's (1994-1997).
"We evened the series with them now; they've won 40 and we've won 40; that's a big deal for us," Sims said.
Playing with a limited Dedrick Mills, who was still dealing with an injured ankle, the Broncbusters relied heavily on West, who delivered in the biggest game of the season. The sophomore's 51-yard run on Garden City's third possession, setup Ellis Merriweather's six-yard rushing touchdown that gave Garden City a 7-0 advantage with 2:13 left in the first.
"I don't know if anyone has noticed, but man Charles West is fast," Sims said with a smile. "It amazes me still how quickly he takes off on a simple zone play, and no one can catch him."
West tallied his 10th career 100-yard rushing game and his eighth of the season, putting him in position to win the NJCAA rushing title.
"It's not easy doing what we're doing," Sims said. "We are running these guys 50 to 60 times per game, and they're not flinching."
Garden City (10-0, 7-0) extended their cushion in the second quarter following Kenny's White first interception of the season. The Broncbusters drove it 45 yards in seven plays, capping it off with Mills, who stampeded into the end zone from nine yards out. On the extra-point attempt, Butler (7-4, 5-2) was flagged for 12 men on the field. That extra yard enticed Sims to keep his offense on the field, and Mills ran in the two-point conversion to make it 15-0 with 2:11 to play in the first half.
"I mean some of the mistakes Butler made were unbelievable," Sims said. "They called a timeout on the extra point, and then were flagged for 12 men on the field."
That wasn't the only blunder the Grizzlies had. On the ensuing kickoff, Larry Jones bobbled the ball into the end zone; then decided to run it out. He didn't get very far before he was walloped by Deonte Nelson at the 5.
"We always preach the little things," Sims said. "Because trust me, they add up in the long run."
Meantime Garden City was involved in their own controversy in the first half, thanks to a missed call that could have had serious implications on the final outcome.
After moving the ball to the Butler 13, Moore threw an incomplete pass on first down to Keyshawn Jones in the back-left corner of the end zone. After the play, both teams were flagged for offsetting penalties, making it second down, or so it appeared. But instead, the officials announced that it was third down, clearly stealing a play away from the Broncbusters. On the next play Moore hit Watt for eight yards setting up fourth-and-short when it really should have been third-and-2.
"Great teams overcome adversity," Sims said.
On fourth down, with nobody open in the end zone, Moore threw the ball away, thinking it was third down, turning the ball over on downs with 10 seconds left in the first half.
"We've dealt with adversity all season long," Foy-Walton said. "We don't let stuff like that affect us."
That squandered scoring chance left the door open for Butler, who came out punching in the second half.
Ty Zentner drilled a 27-yard field nine minutes into the third that got the Grizzlies on the board. The next time they had the ball, they were facing a fourth-and-12 from their own 25. That's when fourth-year Head Coach Tim Schaffner rolled the dice.
Zentner took the direct snap, and with Watt rushing off the edge, took advantage of the overplay, racing 39 yards for a first down. On the next snap, Trae Self hooked up with Jones for a 36-yard touchdown pass that pulled the road squad within five.
"We just had to keep doing what we've been doing," Foy-Walton said. "It was only a matter of time."
Whatever momentum Butler had captured, was stolen away minutes later when West rumbled 45 yards to the end zone, putting the Broncbusters up 22-10 late in the third.
"Our three backs all provided something today," Sims said. "I felt like we had to put Charles in a position to succeed, and we did that."
Down by 12, the Grizzlies had no plans of going quietly. The problem: Garden City's defense did not oblige.
Schaffner's team drove to the Garden City 1. However, on third-and-goal, Foy-Walton chopped down Ja'Kevious Vickers for a five-yard loss. On fourth down, Heston Lameta knocked away Self's pass to tight end Rhett Weidenbacher in the end zone, ending the Grizzlies' scoring threat.
"Coach (Josh) Hager always put us in a good position on defense," Foy-Walton added.
Garden City put the game on ice with a six-minute drive later in the fourth, clinching the program's 12th conference title.
"I mean, it's unbelievable," Sims said of playing for another national title. "I don't care who we play, we just want to play."
Moore finished 10-of-18 for 75 yards for the Broncbusters, who will play in their fourth national championship game. Merriweather totaled 77 yards on 19 carries and a score while Mills carried the ball just five times for 24 and a touchdown. Watt caught four balls for 30, and Jones had three receptions for 32.
Self was 8-of-22 for 160 yards and a touchdown for Butler, who's now been outscored 65-10 in their last two games in Garden City. Vickers had eight carries for 62, and Jones caught three balls for 72 and a touchdown.
Notes: With the win, Jeff Sims is now two victories from passing Jeff Leiker for fourth on the school's all-time wins list…Garden City ran 26 more plays than Butler 79-53 and held the ball for 38:42…The Broncbusters are now 32-12 under Sims and have won 14 out of their last 15 games
Next up: Garden City vs. East Mississippi-Thursday, Nov. 29-6 p.m. pregame; 7 p.m. kick on 99.9 FM; westenrkansasnews.com/kwkr and KWKR mobile app