Here she was, back at the stadium she once thought might be too painful to return to.

Here she was, back at the stadium she once thought might be too painful to return to.

Gloria Butler wore a white and blue T-shirt with "Fly High" on the front and the number 41 on the back on Saturday at Spiegelberg Stadium. Among the decorations on her wrists was a light blue rubber band with the short message "Just keep living" on it.

Last August, Butler lost her 21-year-old child Kris in a car accident. The 2007 Eagle Point High graduate wasn't just a son either — he was a bastion of the Southern Oregon Renegades minor league football team, the constantly smiling, hard-working man who wore 41, a number that is now retired.

When the 2011 season rolled around, it was hard for Gloria to imagine the game without Kris.

"These guys on the football team are my other sons," Gloria said. "They are my family. They are the reason I am here this year. After Kris' accident, I hadn't planned on coming back. It's hard. It's still hard."

Ultimately, though, she said she came to this realization: "The way I live right now, I live day to day. I live for my girls, for my grandchildren, I live the way my son would want me to keep going. I know he would want us to keep pushing through every day."

The Renegades did just that, orchestrating an inspired second-half effort en route to a 21-6 victory over Springfield in the second round of the Pacific Football League playoffs. The win clinched the South Division title and a spot in next Saturday's championship contest against the Kitsap County Bears at Olympic Stadium in Silverdale, Wash.

As Southern Oregon's Andre Smith strolled along the sidelines during the waning moments of the game, the running back couldn't help but to think about Kris.

"It's hard to believe he is not here right now going through this right now," Smith said. "It's emotional. It is hard to think he's not here right now. We were supposed to be in the backfield and do damage together.

"It was so hard (losing Kris), but what he would want us to do is keep fighting, keep playing. I know he's watching us and he's loving it."

Southern Oregon (11-2) will get to keep playing after its determined defense shut out the Buzzards (5-6) in the final three quarters.

But in those first three quarters, it wasn't entirely clear who would advance during the evenly matched battle. The Buzzards led 6-4 entering the final quarter before placekicker Jason McGregor put Southern Oregon ahead for good with his 25-yard field goal, which came with 4:25 left.

"I didn't want it — I had to have it," said McGregor, who missed field goal attempts from 37 and 30 yards earlier in the game. "I knew I couldn't miss."

On the ensuing Springfield drive, Dustin Mathews made an interception at the Buzzards' 15-yard line to set up Smith's 9-yard touchdown run.

James Snyder, who shined brightest in the win, came up with a spectacular security score when he picked off a Springfield pass and ran it back 78 yards for a score, halting a strong drive by the Buzzards. The snap was bobbled on the two-point conversion, but Snyder — the placeholder — recovered the ball and ran it in. The defensive back finished with two interceptions and four tackles.

Springfield got on the scoreboard first with quarterback Kurt Steele's 3-yard keeper, capping an eight-play, 52-yard drive late in the opening period. Kris Mix blocked the extra-point attempt.

Southern Oregon's Buddy Tuamasaga tackled running back Travis Warren in the Springfield end zone to force a safety with 2:53 left in the second. The Renegades tacked on two more points early in the third quarter when a Springfield snap went high, over its punter's head and into the end zone.

Southern Oregon quarterback Nate Ellis was solid, completing 10 of his 16 passes for 130 yards with an interception. On the ground, the dual-threat signal caller had seven carries for 47 yards.

Ellis' primary target was Thom Whiteaker, who recorded six catches for 80 yards. Antoine Williams made six catches for 38 yards.

Smith finished with 46 rushing yards on 10 carries and Alvin Thornton ran the ball five times for 26 yards.

Defensively, Mix, Garry Colbert and Mathews registered five tackles apiece.

Keosha Butler, one of Kris Butler's sisters, joined Gloria and her father Arthur on the Renegades sideline Saturday. They paced back and forth, shouted out words of encouragement and, when it was all said and done, stood amid the Southern Oregon huddle and recognized Kris, whom they believe has been with them all along.

"There is nothing harder than losing a child," Gloria said. "But I get up every morning, I say good morning to (Kris) and ask him to get me through today. Let's do it one day at a time, one step at a time, knowing he's with us."

Springfield 6 0 0 0 — 6

Southern Oregon 0 2 2 17 — 21

Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email