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No. 1 Blue Dragons gear up for National Championship game

Updated: Jun. 4, 2021 at 2:29 PM CDT
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HUTCHINSON, Kan. (Hutchinson CC Sports Information) - Back in 2019, the Hutchinson Community College football team missed an opportunity to play in the NJCAA Football Championship Game by a grand total of three points.

One season later, the No. 1-ranked Blue Dragons get the opportunity to play for that coveted first national title when Hutchinson (7-0) takes on No. 2-ranked Snow College (8-0) in the 2020-21 NJCAA Championship Game presented by Bob McCloskey Insurance.

Kickoff will be at 4 p.m. this Saturday, June 5 at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock, Arkansas. The game will be broadcast live on Blue Dragon flagship station KHUT-FM and sister stations KWBW-AM/FM and will be televised live by CBS Sports Network.

This will be the Blue Dragons’ first opportunity to play for a national football championship. The Blue Dragons will also be making their 23rd postseason appearance.

The Badgers will play for a national title for the third time. Snow won the national championship in 1985 and lost to Jayhawk Conference rival Butler in double overtime in 2008.

Hutchinson completed its regular season undefeated for the third time in program history (1947, 1969). The Blue Dragons won the seventh KJCCC league title in program history. The Blue Dragons had two wins over ranked teams this season - No. 3 Garden City, 23-7, and No. 7 Independence, 42-24. Coffeyville and Butler were receiving votes.

Snow has one victory over a nationally ranked opponent. The Badgers defeated Then-No. 2 Iowa Western 31-30 in Council Bluffs on opening weekend. Snow is 3-0 vs. the state of Iowa this season with road wins at Ellsworth and Iowa Central.

The 2020-21 NJCAA Championship game will feature the top two scoring offenses in the NJCAA this season - Snow is No. 1 at 52.1 points per game, the Blue Dragons are No. 2 at 47.7 points per game. Defensively, the Blue Dragons are No. 3 in the nation in scoring defense at 11.4 points per game. Snow is No. 6 in scoring defense at 13.9 points per game.

Both head coaches in the championship game - Hutchinson’s Drew Dallas and Snow’s Zak Erekson - are in the first seasons at their respective schools.

Neither team has played since the third week in May. The Dragons clinched a KJCCC title on May 16 with a 70-14 win over Dodge City at Gowans Stadium. Snow closed its season on May 15 with a 77-0 win over Gordon’s Fine Arts and Sports Academy.

Hutchinson and Snow College will meet for the first time ever in football.

NOTING THE BLUE DRAGONS

+ The Blue Dragons have started a season 8-0 only five times - 1947, 1948, 1969, 2010 and 2014.

+ Offensively, the Blue Dragons boast the No. 2 scoring offense, No. 2 rushing offense and No. 5 total offensive team in the NJCAA this season.

+ Defensively, the Dragons rank No. 3 in scoring defense, No. 6 in rush defense and No. 7 in total defense.

+ Despite an injury to starting quarterback C.J. Ogbonna in the second quarter of the Independence game in Week 5, this position has been a pillar of strength in the Dragons. Ogbonna is completing 60.2 percent of his passes for 609 yards with eight touchdowns and three interceptions. Freshman Dylan Laible jumped right in after Ogbonna’s injury. He is completing 59.5 percent for 631 yards with 11 touchdowns and one interception.

+ The Blue Dragons have a deep, deep stable of running backs led by Tye Edwards, who has two 100-yard games this season. Edwards is 11th in the NJCAA at 81.6 yards per game. Game-breaker Anwar Lewis averages 10.5 yards per carry and 66.3 yards per game. Both Edwards and Lewis have six rushing touchdowns. Dylan Kedzior is averaging 11.2 yards per carry with two scores. Four different backs have at least 200 yards.

+ The receiving corps were a question entering the season. The question was answered. Cam Henderson has a team-high 21 receptions for 256 yards and two scores. Tight End Ivan Thomas and receiver Cortez Braham have a combined 11 TDs.

+ Return specialist Jalik Thomas leads the NJCAA in kickoff return average at 31.2 yards per return on eight returns. He has a 100-yard return for a touchdown vs. Butler.

+ Henderson is seventh in the NJCAA in punt returns at 9.4 yards per return on 13 attempts.

+ Linebacker Trey Pinkney leads the nation with 8.5 quarterback sacks and is second in tackles for loss with 13.

+ Kicker C.J. Moya has stepped in to take over the bulk of the place-kicking duties. He is 27 of 27 on extra points and made his only field goal. He has 20 touchbacks on kickoffs.

NOTING THE BADGERS

+ Snow College plays in its third NJCAA football national title. Back in 1985, the Badgers defeated NEO 29-14 in the Mid-America Bowl. That team was inducted into the NJCAA Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2010. The Badgers were national runner-up in 2008 when they lost to Butler 37-30 in double overtime in the first NJCAA designated title game.

+ The then-No. 10 Badgers knocked off then-No. 2 Iowa Western in Council Bluffs on opening weekend. That’s Snow’s only win over a ranked opponent, but it’s 3-0 in three road trips to Iowa, also defeating Ellsworth and Iowa Central.

+ The Badgers are the No. 1 scoring team in the country at 52.1 points per game.

+ Snow is also ranked No. 1 in the NJCAA in rushing defense at 37.8 yards per game allowed. The Badgers are allowing 1.3 yards per carry.

+ Running Back Seth Kaelin is just 1 of 6 running backs in the nation this season to average at least 100 yards per game rushing. Kaelin is averaging 100.4 yards per game. He has nine rushing touchdowns and averaged 5.9 yards per rush.

+ Taylor Larsen is a versatile player, who is seventh in the NJCAA in all-purpose yards at 140.3 yards per game. He is 16th in the nation in receiving with 65.1 receiving yards per game (32 catches for 651 yards) and is fifth in the nation in punt returns at 14.4 yards per return.

+ Quarterback Garrison Beach ranks ninth in the NJCAA in passing at 191.5 yards per game. He is completing 62.7 percent of his passes for 1,532 yards with 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

+ Receiver Tejhuan Palmer is seventh in the NJCAA at 80.9 yards per game. He has 28 catches for 566 yards and 10 touchdowns. Palmer is averaging 20.2 yards per catch.

+ Punter Brody Taylor is averaging 43.2 yards per punt this season with a long of 70 yards and 10 punts inside the 20-yard line.

+ Kicker Stockton Lund is 38 of 40 on extra-point tries this season. he is 7 of 8 on field goals with a long of 51 yards

+ Snow has two kickoff/punt returns for touchdowns.