COSTA MESA — In 2008, junior college football's national champion was the Butte Roadrunners.
The phrase became preserved in history following the team's workmanlike 17-9 victory over Mt. San Antonio College in the California Community College Athletic Association championship game Saturday night at LeBard Stadium.
JCGridiron.com proclaimed in the buildup that the winner of the matchup would be crowned the champion of its country-wide rankings as well because both the Roadrunners and Mounties have ascended to the top two spots. Listed at No. 1 even before the battle was Butte, which showed why with convincing defensive dominance of Mt. SAC's hyped offensive attack.
"We didn't come all the way here to lose," Brandon Rankin, Butte's shining defensive member all season and the recipient of Saturday night's most valuable player award, said during the postgame celebration.
Relentless bursts of frigid breezes off the Orange County coastline made the game's atmosphere similar to Candlestick Park in San Francisco, where the 49ers were kings of the NFL in the 1980s because of the artistry with which the Joe Montana-led offenses executed.
Butte's signature championship trait was cemented against Mt. SAC — the Rankin-led defense that was No. 1 in the NorCal Conference this season. The Mounties offense that averaged 428 yards this season was held to 218, silencing the spirited Mt. SAC cheering section shocked about how the theme developed all game long.
"The difference between a tornado and a hurricane is that you can prepare for a hurricane, but a tornado kind of shows up out of nowhere and wreaks havoc ... we were just like a tornado in there tonight," Butte head coach Jeff Jordan said. "That's a line I got from (Indianapolis Colts head coach) Tony Dungy's book a while back and I shared it with the team before the game because I thought playing that way would be essential to getting this win."
The passing offense Mt. SAC (12-2) used to generate 336 yards per game on a 66-percent completion rate all season was limited to 143 yards on 15 completions in 43 attempts (28 percent). Butte (12-0) didn't give up the Mounties' lone touchdown until Burton Iosefa rushed for a score from 1-yard out with 2:03 left in the game that shortened the Roadrunners' 17-3 lead.
Kicker Jacob Harfman's extra-point attempt was then blocked by Rankin, who also had two sacks to run his season total up to 19.
"These guys like to pass and that's fine with me because I like to pass rush," Rankin said. "All the hard work this team put in all year long back since winter paid off."
The defense's work, which also included second-half interceptions by defensive back Anthony Conner and free safety A.J. Hils, camouflaged a slow night for the Butte offense. Other than running back Alex Green's 119 yards rushing on 27 attempts, Butte had trouble finding sustained success against a Mounties defense that had only twice in the prior seven games beforehand held an opposing offense to under 20 points.
Aaron Courtney's 13-yard touchdown run with 6:30 remaining in the game, which extended the 10-3 lead to 14 points, came as a result of special teams help — Keke Paul's 65-yard punt return to the Mt. SAC 16-yard line.
"(The defense) did a great job and we didn't," Butte offensive tackle Danny Watkins said. "They bailed us out."
The Roadrunners began the game looking crisp in both facets. The Mounties started off with the ball and faced a third down and 3 situation on the third play of the game. Butte held Mt. SAC receiver Michael Robinson to a 2-yard gain and took over possession from its own 21-yard line following the punt.
Four plays later, the Roadrunners picked up a 42-yard gain — the longest for either offense in the defensive-toned game — on a pass play between quarterback Ryan Ratekin and receiver Angel Quail on third and 11 at the Butte 31. That put the Roadrunners in scoring territory, where receiver Justin Hilton ended up grabbing a 19-yard pass from Ratekin in the end zone for the early lead 4 minutes, six seconds after the opening kickoff.
After that, 16 total incomplete passes by both the Mounties and Roadrunners combined fueled a sequence of eight straight possessions where no significant offensive momentum was generated.
Mt. SAC almost broke the mold midway through the second quarter by utilizing an interception Ratekin threw to defensive back Gabriel Anderson. Mounties kicker Harfman, an All-American candidate, was set up for a 40-yarder that never was kicked because holder Robert Mata fumbled the clean long snap.
Harfman sailed his next attempt straight through the target from 50 yards out with 1:28 left before halftime, cutting the Mt. SAC deficit to 7-3. It was the closest Mt. SAC would get the rest of the way versus the combination of Butte producing just enough offense for 10 more points and the defensive lockdown.
"We've got all-conference players on both sides of the ball," Conner said. "We have what it takes to be the No. 1 team."