Behind the title: This was Butler’s second straight national title and, once again, they were headed west to face the No. 1 team in the country, this time, Dixie (Utah) in the Dixie Rotary Bowl at St. George, Utah – where an estimated 8,000 fans packed into a 6,000-seat stadium to watch the game. Butler’s trump card? One of the greatest junior-college football players of all time in running back Rudi Johnson, who led the nation in rushing in ’99 with an amazing 2,224 yards and 32 touchdowns. Johnson would come absolutely uncorked against Dixie, going for 373 yards and 7 touchdowns against the second-best rushing defense in the country. In an interesting aside, Butler sophomore offensive lineman Howard Duncan won his second straight title with the Grizzlies … then would go on to win another one the next year with Oklahoma. After this game, coach James Shibest left Butler to take a job as an assistant at Arkansas. His replacement? The young offensive coordinator on Butler’s two title teams – Troy Morrell.
Game story with notes and box score after the jump:
MAGNIFICENT SEVEN: BUTLER REPEATS BEHIND JOHNSON’S SEVEN TDS
By JEFFREY PARSON
The Wichita Eagle
ST. GEORGE, Utah – It wasn’t enough. He had to do more.
Even with all the yards, even with all the touchdowns, Butler County running back Rudi Johnson was being asked to give a little bit more Saturday afternoon.
“The coaches asked me to finish off the game, to end it,” Johnson said. “They want me in that role.”
So Johnson took the pitch, and on his 40th carry of the day, he went left, fought off two tacklers and dove for a first down.
The top-ranked Dixie (Utah) Rebels would not get the ball back. Second-ranked Butler would get its repeat.
The Grizzlies beat Dixie 49-35 to win the Dixie Rotary Bowl and secure their second straight national championship.
Under the bluest of skies, on the greenest of fields, there was a party going on between the mountain ranges of southern Utah.
It wasn’t a sudden explosion of emotion, though. No, an earlier 35-point lead had allowed the Grizzlies to start planning a celebration long before.
Rather, it was a joy that slowly built up, an appreciation of such an accomplishment. Only Blinn (Texas) has also won two straight NJCAA titles, doing it in 1995 and ’96.
“It’s history, man,” Butler coach James Shibest said. “To be only the second team to do it, it’s amazing. Last year, I was overwhelmed. This year, I wanted to relax and enjoy it a little bit more. But it probably still won’t sink in for a day or two.”
Johnson’s historic performance will be talked about for years to come.
It started innocently enough. A two-yard touchdown over the right side of the line made the score 7-7 with 11:01 remaining in the first half. It was certainly nothing extraordinary for Johnson, a 5-foot-10 sophomore who led the nation in rushing and rushing touchdowns, but it was the start of something special.
Two series later, Johnson got the ball on the first play, and he took the sweep right up the sideline 66 yards for another touchdown. It was the type of big play that gives a player and his team instant momentum.
“And once Rudi gets going,” Butler wide receiver Sam Breeden said, “there’s absolutely no way to stop him.”
Butler started its next series on its own 29- yard line. Breeden caught a perfectly placed 46-yard pass from Daniel Cobb, Johnson was stopped for no gain up the middle, and Johnson broke up the right sideline 29 yards for another touchdown.
It was 21-7 with 1:14 until halftime, and Butler was doing it against a Dixie team that finished the season second nationally against the run.
It only got worse for the Rebels. Dixie kick returner Cody Weight was plastered by two Grizzlies and fumbled. Four plays later, Johnson was again carrying the ball into the end zone, an easy two-yard jog.
“I couldn’t believe what was happening,” Cobb said. “The line was blowing them off the ball, Sam was making big catches, and Rudi was tearing through them. I mean, that team’s giving up 50 yards a game, and he gets that on one run. I was really trying hard not to let it show how surprised I was.”
Halftime did nothing to slow the momentum of Johnson or the Grizzlies. It took less than three minutes for Johnson to score another touchdown, this one coming on a screen pass he took 17 yards. Butler had scored on five of six possessions and led 35-7.
The Rebels finally stopped the Grizzlies and scored a touchdown of their own, but it was just a short break in the Rudi Johnson Show.
Johnson answered by going 56 yards up the right sideline on the next play. He capped the three-play, 86-yard drive with a 25-yard touchdown run up the middle. He slowly broke three tackles in the first five yards.
“We know when he starts getting that look in his eye, he’s going to give everything he has,” Butler offensive lineman Howard Duncan said. “That makes us give everything we have for him. I ain’t going to lie, I love the guy. I’ll do anything for him, and I think we all feel that way.”
After stopping Dixie on downs and getting the ball on the Rebels’ 41, Butler made sure Johnson wasn’t finished. This time, it was asweep left that Johnson took five yards into the end zone.
It was his seventh touchdown, and Butler led 49-14.
The Rebels would manage a comeback in the fourth quarter, but Johnson had already claimed the game for himself and his team. The national player of the year capped his junior-college career with 373 rushing yards in a game for the national championship.
“We expected a war, but our offense was just clicking,” Johnson said. “The line was blocking, the fullback was blocking, the receivers were blocking and making catches. We were clicking off each other, and then I just found holes everywhere.”
Earlier in the week, Dixie coach Greg Croshaw had said he was worried about Johnson cutting against the grain for big plays. Asked after the game if that was what happened, Croshaw was blunt.
“Do you need to borrow my glasses?” he said. “He got inside, he got outside. He was just everywhere.”
And he has been for two seasons. It is probably no coincidence that Butler’s two titles came with Johnson leading the way.
“It’s hard to say exactly how unbelievable he is,” Shibest said. “More than his talent, he just has so much heart. For two seasons, his heart has made our team play with more heart. And you have to have a lot of heart to do what we’ve done.”
From one extreme to the other – Back-to-back national titles mean a lot to all of Butler’s sophomores, but it’s particularly special for offensive lineman Howard Duncan.
A top prospect at 6-foot-4, 304 pounds, Duncan knows well the feeling of losing. During his senior season at Kansas City Washington, Duncan had to endure an 0-9 season.
“Coming from 0-9, and then to go 12-0 and 11-1 – I can’t tell you how good that feels,” Duncan said. “It makes it even more amazing for me.”
Viva . . . – The Grizzlies had one heck of a setting in which to celebrate Saturday night: Las Vegas. After a postgame meal at Wendy’s, Butler bused to Las Vegas, which is about two hours from St. George. The players had about five hours to play in the city of lights, though a $10 per diem might have limited some of the fun. Five of the players – running back Rudi Johnson, quarterback Daniel Cobb, wide receiver Sam Breeden, kicker Adam Stiles and Duncan – were also meeting with Auburn coaches, who roamed the Grizzlies’ sideline during Saturday’s game.
Worth noting — The crowd at Hansen Stadium was estimated at 8,000. The stadium’s actual capacity is 6,000, but fans were encouraged to bring lawn chairs or stand around the field. . . . One key for Butler was shutting down Dixie tight end Aaron Ware. A big-time prospect, Ware entered the game with 44 catches for 781 yards. He had only two catches for 16 yards Saturday. . . . Butler’s 49 points were the fourth-most in the 14-year history of the Rotary Bowl. Dixie scored 56 points in 1988, Coffeyville scored 60 in 1993 and Dixie had 76 in 1997. . . . Butler lost 36-33 to Dixie in the first Rotary Bowl in 1986. . . . Dixie is now 9-4 in the Rotary Bowl.
The numbers game
14-128 – Penalties and penalty yards for visiting Butler
8-57 – Penalties and penalty yards for host Dixie
251 to 79 – Dixie’s advantage in return yardage
Butler County (11-1) 0 28 21 0 – 49
Dixie (11- 1) 7 0 7 21 – 35
D-Nielson 14 run (Mitchell kick)
BC-Johnson 2 run (Stiles kick)
BC-Johnson 66 run (Stiles kick)
BC-Johnson 25 run (Stiles kick)
BC-Johnson 2 run (Stiles kick)
BC-Johnson 17 pass from Cobb (Stiles kick)
D-Ross 23 pass from Hampton (Mitchell kick)
BC-Johnson 25 run (Stiles kick)
BC-Johnson 5 run (Stiles kick)
D- Jones 10 run (Mitchell kick)
D- Ross 29 Hampton (Mitchell kick)
D-Anderson 8 pass from Hampton (Mitchell kick)
Rushing – Butler County, Johnson 40-373, Dean 3-14, Logan 5-13, Breeden 1-2. Dixie, Jones 11-49, Nielson 7-21, Sain 2-9, Black 1-0, Hampton 11-(-3), Ross 1-(-9).
Passing – Butler County, Cobb 12-23-210-1, Johnson 0-1-0- 0. Dixie, Hampton 18-30-302-0, Olsen 0-1-0-0.
Receiving – Butler County, Breeden 5-90, Stegman 3- 48, Johnson 2-28, Arnold 1-27, Weaver 1-17. Dixie, Ross 9-204, Gines 4-29, Anderson 2-22, Ware 2-16, Jones 1-31.