Snow College will make its fourth straight appearance in the Zions Bank Top of the Mountains Bowl today, but this game has a lot more on the line than previous games.
Top-ranked Snow (11-0) will take on No. 2 Butler Community College (11-0) at noon in Rice-Eccles Stadium with the national championship at stake.
For the Badgers, whose only NJCAA title came in 1985, winning it all has become an expectation.
"I'm glad the coaches have instilled that in us from Day 1," said Snow College defensive lineman Coleby Clawson. "Through spring workouts and spring ball, getting up for 6 a.m. workouts every morning, we know what we're working for. It's nice to have that goal in mind all along."
Even with what's at stake, Snow coach Steve Coburn is trying to get his team to approach this "as any other game."
"Our philosophy all year has been 'up on the one,' meaning that we're focused on the game that's at hand," said Coburn, who is 22-1 in his two seasons at Snow.
The Butler Grizzlies are seeking their fifth National Junior Collegiate Athletic Association championship, the last coming in 2003.
Coburn is known as a defensive guru, but the Badgers have been quite successful on both sides of the ball. They're ranked second nationally in offense and defense.
Snow's defense bolstered by future BYU defensive linemen Tevita Hola and Clawson, and linebacker Josh Sharp and defensive back Andrew Rich allowed just 12.4 points a game. In addition, it held opponents to only 155 yards a game (48 rushing, 107 passing).
"Our defense carried us early, because we lost so many players on offense," Coburn said. "Our offense finally got going, and now I think we're very two-dimensional, able to run and pass well."
Offensively, the Badgers are led by Soni Sotele, who has 18 rushing touchdowns. Backfield mate Niu Takai has added eight scores.
Quarterback Jon Eastman passed for 13 touchdowns, but he only played in six games because of a mid-season broken foot. Eastman came back for the final two regular season games and will start against Butler.
Coburn admits that keeping his team grounded has been a challenge.
"It's been difficult because they know how big the game is, but we try not to build it up too much," he said. "We talk about how the game is bigger than all of us. We've always thought that we had the team to play in this game and be successful. We feel like we have a very mature team."
The magnitude of the contest certainly has not been lost on Coburn, let alone anyone involved with the college.
"Our student body has always been a big support. We call them the 'rowdy crowd,"' Coburn said. "The college president has put a lot of emphasis on the game. He knows that's what Snow is all about. It's a real big opportunity and it means so much to everyone the current players, the administration, all the past players."Snow edged Butler 17-14 in the teams' only other meeting in the 2005 bowl.
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