Football team drops playoff opener

All fall sports are officially done at Butler after the football team dropped its Division I Football Championship Subdivision playoff opener 31-0 against Tennessee State Saturday at the Butler Bowl.

It was the first playoff game in school history for the Bulldogs (9-4). The Bulldogs were also the first team to represent the Pioneer Football League in the FCS playoffs.

It was Tennessee State’s (10-3) first appearance since 1999 and first playoff win since the 1980s, before the formation of the FCS.

The game was more competitive than the score showed. Butler had three trips to the red zone, coming up empty on all three.

Their first trip to the red zone came in the second quarter after a Tennessee State fumble at the 25, returned 11 yards by Phillip Powell to the 14. The Tigers stopped the Bulldogs on three straight plays before Jon Treloar missed a 38-yard field goal.

Instead of trailing by a touchdown, the Tigers went on to score with :41 and the Bulldogs trailed 17-0 at halftime.

Butler forced a fumble on the opening kickoff of the second half, but Tennessee State came away from the scrum with the ball. But two plays later senior defensive lineman Jeremy Stephens forced and recovered a fumble and returned it 37 yards to start a drive at the Tigers’ 20 yard-line.

The Bulldogs again left the red zone with no points, as senior running back Trae Heeter ran up the middle on 4th down and 1 but came up inches short.

Treloar missed another red zone field goal in the fourth quarter, which all but sealed the game for the Tigers.

Butler coach Jeff Voris said the empty red zone trips weren’t necessarily a confidence killer, but did play a role in Saturday’s game.

“I think our guys were locked in, and we were going to play sixty minutes today because we knew we had to,” Voris said. “Naturally you need points at some point if you’re going to win the game, so I think that was more of a factor of not getting the points at that point than anything it did to our confidence.”

Voris said one of the biggest stories of the day was not converting on their three forced turnovers.

“We’ve capitalized on those opportunities all year,” Voris said. “Our defense has been great at creating turnovers, our turnover to takeaway margin has been outstanding.”

“Today we weren’t able to do that,” Voris said. “It was a big factor in the game, but it wasn’t the only one.”

Senior quarterback Matt Lancaster threw for 122 yards and rushed for 74. Lancaster threw three interceptions.

Two of those interceptions were to Fort Wayne native Daniel Fitzpatrick, one of which went for a touchdown to push the score to 24-0 in the third quarter.

Fitzpatrick said it was a good feeling to have a good game in his home state.

“When I saw that we had Butler I was probably more excited than anyone,” Fitzpatrick said. “Our coaches put me in a great position to make some big plays for us today, and to do it in front of kind of a hometown crowd, it was pretty exciting.”

Heeter finished the day with 64 yards on the ground.

Heeter said while it was a bittersweet end to his career, he is proud of the shape they’ve left the Butler football program in.

“Four years ago with our senior class, we all made a great decision to come to Butler and kind of restore a program,” Heeter said. “After being here for four years, we’ve left this program in great hands. All the younger guys beneath us are great players and they’re ready to step up and fill the positions that are leaving.”

The Tigers now move on to face overall No. 2 seed Eastern Illinois in St. Charles, Ill. Kickoff is at 2 p.m. on Saturday.

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