2012 Bowl Preview: NJCAA National Championship Game
November 29, 2012
NJCAA National Championship Game
#1 Iowa Western (11-0) vs. #2 Butler (11-0) – Sunday, 3:00 p.m. (CT)
The Graphic Edge Bowl – UNI Dome – Cedar Falls, Iowa – WATCH LIVE
Throughout the 2012 NJCAA football season, several contenders jockeyed for position in the race for a national title but there were two teams that consistently topped the polls during the fall. After maintaining their current rankings for the final two months of the season, No. 1 Iowa Western and No. 2 Butler will finally clash Sunday in the NJCAA National Championship Game.
This year’s title game pits two programs in dramatically different stages in their respective histories. Butler comes in as the perennial powerhouse, playing in their 25th bowl game and sixth official NJCAA national championship game. The Grizzlies boast a 14-10 bowl record – 3-2 in official championship games – and have won six national titles with their last coming in 2008. On the other side, Iowa Western will vie for the championship in only their fourth season of play. The Reivers are 1-1 in their two bowl appearances, including last season’s 62-0 shellacking of No. 7 Rochester.
Offensively, the 2012 Reivers will go down in history as one of the best in NJCAA football. Iowa Western leads the nation in total offense and scoring, averaging 615.9 yards and 66.0 points per game. Sophomore quarterback Jake Waters has the Reivers ranking first in passing behind his 3,194 yards through the air in 2012. Waters has thrown 39 touchdowns to only three interceptions this season and has compiled a 72.4 completion percentage that has him on pace to set a new NJCAA record. Sophomore wide receiver Deon Long (right) has been Waters’ top target, hauling in 86 receptions for 1,489 yards and a NJCAA-record 25 touchdowns in 2012. Despite their gaudy numbers through the air, Iowa Western ranks second in the nation in rushing with 278.1 yards per game. Sophomore running back Aaron Wimberly has led the way with 1,092 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground.
Although Iowa Western has racked up video-game like numbers this season, Butler also has the firepower to hold their own in a shootout. The Grizzlies rank fourth in the country in total offense with 510.5 yards per game and are third in scoring, averaging 48.6 points per game. Butler sophomore quarterback Billy Cosh has thrown for 2,825 yards and 25 touchdowns this season, while sophomore wide receiver Javess Blue has 65 receptions for 1,064 yards and ranks fourth in the nation with 12 touchdown catches. Averaging 221.6 rushing yards per game, the Grizzlies possess a dynamic running game of their own between sophomore running backs Dreamius Smith (left) and Derrick Thomas. Thomas has received a bulk of the carries while Smith has proved to be the homerun hitter, averaging 8.2 yards per carry – highest in the nation – and ranking third in the country with 17 rushing touchdowns.
With two high-octane offenses squaring off, the championship trophy could come down to who has the best defensive performance. Butler’s second-ranked scoring defense has kept opposing offenses off the scoreboard this season, giving up only 9.4 points per game. Sophomore linebacker Tommy Sanders and sophomore defensive lineman Tim McGaha have anchored the Grizzlies’ relentless pass rush, combining for 14 sacks on the year. Butler ranks sixth in the nation in sacks, corralling the quarterback 40 times this season.
Although most of the attention Iowa Western has drawn has come from their offensive play, the Reivers have played some tenacious defense of their own in 2012. Holding their opponents to 13.3 points per game, the Reivers claim the country’s sixth-ranked scoring defense. Freshman defensive back Isaiah Johnson has been a ball hawk in the secondary, tallying seven interceptions in his first season. Iowa Western ranks second in interceptions this year, picking off 25 passes.
Pacing the sidelines of the UNI Dome will be Iowa Western fourth-year head coach Scott Strohmeier and Butler head coach Troy Morrell in his 13th season. Strohmeier has compiled a 34-8 record since building the Reiver program from scratch. Since joining the Grizzlies’ staff in 1996, Morrell has been a part of five national championships including three as head coach. Morrell’s career-record stands at 137-16 and he is a two-time NJCAA Coach of the Year, earning the award in 2003 and 2007.
Photos courtesy of Iowa Western Community College and Butler Community College.