>> Video Below: IWCC celebrates a national title
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CEDAR FALLS, Iowa — Iowa Western is no longer a fledgling football program.
Now it’s the nation’s best at the junior college level.
The top-ranked Reivers (12-0) capped their fourth season of football by claiming the NJCAA championship on Sunday with a 27-7 victory against No. 2 Butler (Kan.) in the Graphic Edge Bowl at the UNI-Dome.
Iowa Western weathered a defensive struggle in the first half, then scored 24 consecutive points to finish its unbeaten campaign with its 12th convincing victory.
“I’m just so proud of our kids,” Iowa Western coach Scott Strohmeier said. “They fought and fought. It didn’t come easy, by no means. That’s the way they’ve been all year. They’re a determined group.”
The defenses dominated early in a matchup that featured offenses that combined to average more than 1,100 yards and 114 points per game during the regular season.
The Grizzlies (11-1) sacked quarterback Jake Waters five times in the first half, but they were limited to 85 total yards before the break by an equally stubborn Iowa Western defense.
The Reivers finally broke through with a 53-yard drive late in the second quarter for the game’s first points. Waters scored on a 6-yard keeper with 4:24 left in the half.
Iowa Western led 7-0 in the closing seconds of the second quarter when Waters fumbled on a sack at his own 37. Safety James Garlock intercepted Butler quarterback Billy Cosh, however, on the final play of the half and returned the pick 85 yards for a score.
“I just went up the middle and got it,” Garlock said. “Then I saw all of my blockers right in front me. I saw about five black shirts and two white shirts, and I knew I might be able to go.”
The final play of the half was costly for the Grizzlies. Not only did they trail 14-0 after the pick-6, but they also lost Cosh to a knee injury for the remainder of the game.
The former Kansas State recruit completed 7 of 20 passes and was intercepted twice. His backup, Tyler Harrison, threw interceptions on his first two passes after the half.
Meanwhile, Iowa Western began to roll on offense. Waters completed his final six passes of the first half, then he went 17 for 17 after the break to finish 32 of 40 for 307 yards.
Though he didn’t throw a touchdown pass for the first time all year, Waters bumped his 2012 completion percentage to an NJCAA single-season record 73.3 percent.
Deon Long caught 14 passes for 137 yards to become the first player with 100 receptions in a season in NJCAA history. He already held the national mark for touchdowns catches in a year with 25.
A 1-yard scoring run by Don Jackson on Iowa Western’s first drive of the third quarter bumped the lead to 21-0. Kicker Lance Irvin added two field goals as the Reivers tacked on points on all three of their second-half possessions before kneeling down in the game’s final minute.
Iowa Western’s first seven series resulted in six punts and a blocked field goal.
“They’re a really good team, and we figured that out right away,” Waters said. “We just had to get quick completions, get rolling and wear them down a little bit. And I think we did that. That’s when we really started to click on offense.”
The Reivers finished with 406 total yards to Butler’s 237. The Grizzlies managed 84 passing yards and got their lone score on a 1-yard sneak by Harrison with 8:27 remaining.
Derrick Thomas led Butler with 105 rushing yards. But the Grizzlies were held to less than half of their season average (510.5) in total yards and well below their average points per game (48.6).
“They came out and gave us everything we thought they would give us,” Iowa Western linebacker Terrell Porter said. “We just came out, played a good game and we got the win.”
Porter, who had a team-high 10 tackles, finished his junior college career — a year with Grand Rapids and one with Iowa Western — without a loss in 22 games. Garlock had seven tackles and two first-half interceptions.
Butler (11-1)......................................0 0 0 7— 7
Iowa Western (12-0).......................0 14 7 6—27
IW: Jake Waters 6 run (Lance Irvin kick)
IW: James Garlock 85 interception return (Irvin kick)
IW: Don Jackson 1 run (Irvin kick)
IW: FG Irvin 18
B: Tyler Harrison 1 run (Robert Rawlings kick)
IW: FG Irvin 23
Rushing: B, D. Thomas 20-105, Allen 14-39, Harrison 2-14, M. Thomas 2-5, Blue 1-(-5), Hurla 1-(-5). IW, Waters 19-8, Wimberly 12-58, Roberts 3-11, Jackson 3-9, Team 2-0, Bravard 1-3.
Passing: B, Cosh 7-20-2 31, Harrison 3-6-2 53. IW, Waters 20-37-2 307, Bravard 2-2-0 10.
Receiving: B, Hurla 3-57, D. Thomas 3-(-2), Clarke 1-43, Fields 1-(-2), M. Thomas 1-(-5), Allen 1-(-7). IW, Long 14-137, Stone 7-28, Barr 6-72, Wimberly 3-42, Allison 2-20, Jackson 1-13, Gilland 1-5.