Reivers Blitz Grizzlies Early, Stay Undefeated With Top 10 Victory in Bluffs

Reivers Blitz Grizzlies Early, Stay Undefeated With Top 10 Victory in Bluffs

Council Bluffs, IA

With an undefeated, 9-0, record in the program's second season, the Iowa Western Reivers looked ahead to a potential #1 vs #2 match-up in the 2010 National Championship Game.  The team they would have matched up with was none other than the perennially powerful, five-time champion, Butler Grizzlies.  As the record shows, that game never happened.  Iowa Western was beaten soundly by Ellsworth to close out a magical run and instead of playing the Grizzlies, the Reivers met another NJCAA stalwart in the Top of the Mountains Bowl.  Snow College held off of a furious comeback in the game as the Reivers finished the season with back-to-back losses and were left to wonder what-if.

Of course, Iowa Western got their match-up with Butler eventually, besting the Grizzlies to win the 2012 NJCAA National Title just two seasons later.  The team would go on to face the Grizzlies the very next season in the 2013 version of the Graphic Edge bowl and would continue the rivalry when the Kansas Jayhawk Conference and the ICCAC reached a scheduling agreement in 2014 between the two leagues.  

No one, on either side of the budding rivalry, could have imagined the way the series would tilt in the years since, dramatically one-sided toward Head Coach Scott Strohmeier's program.

"When we started, they (Butler) were the team that we wanted to model our program after," said Strohmeier after another win over Butler on Saturday. "They've always been well coached, they run a first-class program, and for us to be able to win the games we have is a testament to the players and coaches that we've been privileged to have in our program.  We'll never take wins over a program like Butler for granted."

Strohmeier and the Reivers (7-0) had the week in advance of Saturday's game off and executed the early game plan on Saturday against Butler nearly to perfection, building a 21-0 first-quarter lead, en route to a 33-14 victory over Butler (5-3), the NJCAA's sixth-ranked team.

Kansas native Aiden Niedens earned his third start of the season at quarterback and led a nine-play, 75-yard drive to start the scoring.  A 2-yard run by James Graham out of the wildcat, his 7th score of the season, capped the drive and gave the Reivers an early 7-0 advantage with Niedens completing a pair of passes for 53 yards, including a 30-yard strike to LJ Fitzpatrick to convert an early 3rd down on the drive.

Tyree Hill picked up a pair of sacks to turn the ball back over to the Reivers on the drive that followed and Butler watched Niedens complete another pass, this time for 45-yards to a wide-open Jaden Koger, as the Reivers scored in under 10 seconds on their second possession.  Josh Meyer, called on to kick for an injured Sam Wilber, added his second point after to increase the lead to 14-0 with just over five minutes gone in the game.

Grizzlies' Quarterback Jake Wolff, leading a Grizzlies offense that came into the game averaging nearly 42 points a contest, continued to struggle to find time against 'The Darkside' defense of Iowa Western.  Iowa Western forced three incompletions and turned in another three quarterback sacks on Butler's first three drives while limiting starting tailback Azhuan Dingle's yardage in the run game.  At the end of the visitor's third possession, linebacker Justin Erb blocked a punt attempt and fellow special-teamer Matt Kordas scooped the ball up and scored the Reivers' third TD of the quarter from four yards out.  It was the Reivers' first blocked punt for a score of the season and the first since last December's NJCAA semi-final win over Snow at home.

Sixth-ranked Butler, who rallied from 28 points down in a game earlier in the season would not go away.  The two teams battled into the second with Iowa Western stuffing a Grizzly 4th down attempt to force a turnover on downs, but the Grizzlies would return the favor immediately and drive 78-yards for their first score.  With Wolff on the sideline with ice on his shoulder, back-up Jacobi Myers completed two of three attempts including a 15-yarder for a score to Jaelon Travis to cut the lead to two scores.  Dingle, the team's leading rusher, finally found success, rushing for nearly half of his game-high 90-yards on the drive.

Down 21-7, first-year head coach Brice Vignery's squad kicked the ball back to the Reivers with just 2:09 remaining in the first half looking to continue their strong defensive showing in the quarter.  Iowa Western, starting at their own 30, converted a first down and then blasted into the end zone again on 2nd and 5 from their 46.  Niedens threw a bullet to Bryant Williams out of the backfield and Williams did the rest.  54-yards later, Iowa Western had a three-score lead once again, headed into halftime up 27-7.

"We put some things in that we thought we could exploit them with and then went out and executed," Strohmeier said, "If Aiden (Niedens) doesn't throw it when he does, if the receiver runs the wrong route, then we've obviously got trouble, but the guys went out and performed the way we needed them to.  There were a few plays that we left out there, but we made enough of them count to win the game."

The Reivers would build on the lead in the third when Niedens tossed his shortest scoring pass of the game, finding Micah Davis out of the backfield for a 2-yard score.  The four-minute drive covered 83-yards and was highlighted by the strong running of Jaden Koger, rushing for nearly 35-yards after contact on a 46-yard run in the middle of the drive.  The score ballooned to 33-7 on the score, but the final two PAT attempts by Meyer went wide after drilling his first three attempts of the day.

The final score of the day was created by the Grizzlies' opportunistic defense.  BCC came into the match-up with the Reivers plus 13 in turnovers and left Council Bluffs plus 14.  The lone turnover of the game came when Niedens underthrew a pass into the arms of Grizzly defensive back Patrick Mooney and the offense converted the first and goal opportunity on a blast by Dingle to provide the final scoring of the game. 

Iowa Western collected nine more sacks on the day and turned in a total of 14 tackles for loss as they held the Nation's number-one scoring offense to 28 points below their season average.  The 'Darkside' also limited Butler to just 155 total yards of offense.  Jackson Filer and Quientrail Jamison-Travis led the team with seven tackles apiece, while Marcel Tyler collected two of the team's nine sacks to lead that stat category.

Punter Ty Nissen had another tremendous day kicking the ball, placing six of his seven punts inside the 20-yard line with assistance from Koah Thompson, Kordas, and the rest of the special teams' coverage unit.

Meyers, forced into duty when Wilber came up lame in the pregame, also made a touchdown-saving tackle on A.J. King, Butler's electric return man.

Iowa Western grabbed their third straight win in the series and remains unbeaten in the state of Iowa versus Butler, moving to 4-0 at Titan Stadium and 6-0 all-time in the 'Hawkeye State' versus the Grizzlies.  The Reivers improved their overall record versus Top 10 opponents to 23-12, and 19-6 when playing as the 2nd-ranked team in the polls. IWCC is 110-18 when playing as a ranked squad in their 14 seasons of football.

Next up, the Reivers head to Ft. Dodge with their eyes on bringing home a pair of trophies.  Iowa Central awaits with the winner of Saturday's contest clinching the ICCAC Championship and the opportunity to keep 'The Cup'.  The former 'Kinney Cup', the new trophy was introduced during last season's series and is the traveling trophy that goes annually to the winner of the match-up between the Reivers and Tritons.  Even more critical for Iowa Western is the chance to remain unbeaten with a win.

The Tritons and Reivers will meet for the 17th time overall, with the series lead belonging to Iowa Western.  The Reivers have collected seven victories in Ft. Dodge and seven victories in Council Bluffs and lead 14-2 overall.  The current winning streak for Iowa Western in the series stands at four, with all four match-ups in 2021 won by Iowa Western and featuring both teams ranked within the Top 10 of the NJCAA poll.  The game will be the sixth straight in the series with both teams ranked in the NJCAA poll and seventh overall.

All the action can be heard, free of charge, on the Reiver Sports Network.  The game, with Jake Ryan, Russ Nelsen, and Josh Odson on the call, can also be found on Iowa Western's 100,000-watt FM radio station, 89.7 The River.  The RSN Countdown to Kickoff begins at 2:00 on the radio side with the video stream starting just before kickoff.

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