SANDY New York's David Tyree has The Catch. St. Louis' Mike Jones has The Tackle. And Saturday, Butler College's Demonte Hill made The Recovery.
It's a good thing the freshman was paying attention during those special-teams meetings when his coaches ran through seemingly implausible scenarios. He couldn't have known it back in that Kansas classroom, but understanding those obscure situations would earn his Butler Grizzlies the NJCAA national football title Saturday afternoon at Rio Tinto Stadium.
"That's the same thing we talk about every week in special teams meetings," said Butler coach Troy Morrell after the Grizzlies won a double-overtime thriller against top-ranked Snow, 37-30, by recovering a blocked field goal attempt for a touchdown. "I'm glad our kids were alert and knew what to do."
In the first overtime, both teams scored touchdowns. In the second overtime, Butler had the ball first, but advanced only eight yards. On fourth down, the Grizzlies attempted a field goal. Snow College's Matt Putnam, a freshman from Layton, blocked the kick. The ball bounced toward the end zone and a couple of Snow College players tried to jump on the ball, including one in the end zone. But the ball bounced loose until Hill sailed through the white jerseys and landed on it, earning his team the go-ahead touchdown.
"We put that block in there because we knew we could get it," Snow coach Steve Coburn said. "Matt worked his butt off to get that block, and to have it go that way was disappointing."
One team's heartbreak turned out to be another team's moment of destiny.
"It was unbelievable," said Butler quarterback Press Thomas, a sophomore who heads to Marshall University for a visit next weekend. "I've never seen a game end like that. ... It just seemed like it was meant to be for us."
Morrell said it has been a season of breathtaking moments. The Grizzlies started the season at No. 1 and then lost their season-opener. They dropped to No. 6 and focused on much smaller goals than back-to-back national titles.
"This is a very young team," Morrell said. "After (that loss), we just focused on being our best. Then we reeled off 10 wins in a row. We had some luck and good things happen to us. We took advantages of some scenarios. ... There have been some disappointments, but they just kept battling."
Butler owned the first half, as Snow was plagued with penalties that cost them critical conversions, key yardage and even a touchdown.
"We talked about some of that at halftime," Coburn said. "As soon as we fixed those things, we came out and got back in a position to win the game."
Butler led 20-7 at the half. A strange third quarter saw the Badgers score two points on a blocked punt for a safety. Then Butler scored on a field goal to make it 23-9 going into the final quarter. Snow scored a touchdown on a 10-yard pass from Jon Eastman to Sam Thomas, and then sophomore Mike Meifu earned another touchdown on a two-yard run. The kick from Joe Phillips, a sophomore from Lone Peak High, tied the score.
Butler's defense kept it in the game in the second half and finished the game with three interceptions, a fumble recovery and a touchdown.
When the overtime drama began, it made the first football game played at Rio Tinto Stadium an eventful one.
"It's been an unbelievable season for us," Thomas said. "To lose the first game and then to be here, in Salt Lake City, it's amazing. When we heard we were coming back to Utah, we were very excited. We had a great experience last year. We were glad not to wake up to a foot of snow (which happened in last year's game). ... This is an awesome stadium. For the first football game, I think we made it a memorable one."
The Grizzlies' defense intercepted Eastman's first pass of the second overtime to end the game.
While the final minutes of the game will no doubt haunt Snow College, Coburn said he's "never been prouder of a group of young men."
"We cherished this moment," he said, praising his players for being great human beings off the field as well as great athletes on the field. "It doesn't come all the time."
As the Grizzlies celebrated their back-to-back titles, they understood it came from good, old-fashioned hard work and faith in each other."In a season filled with adversity, they just hung in there," Morrell said. "I feel very fortunate that things worked out for us. It was such a nontraditional way to win a football game. We just found a way."
E-mail: [email protected]