KYLE BEERY | STAFF REPORTER
Homecoming. It’s a time for Butler students to escape the stresses of class. It’s a time for alumni to come back to campus and reach out to current students. It’s a time for Greek houses to show off their pride and involvement. It’s a time for college kids to be college kids.
It’s also a time for a football game.
While student attendance may be low over the last few seasons, the Butler football team is stepping up its prominence. The Bulldogs will open the Pioneer Football League play against Jacksonville University in the Homecoming game Saturday at noon in the Butler Bowl.
Coming off a 38-3 win over Taylor University in the team’s home opener last weekend, the Bulldogs (2-1) are looking to win their third straight PFL opener against the Dolphins (2-1, 1-0 PFL).
The Dolphins’ only loss of the season was a 44-3 roughhousing at the hands of Southeastern Louisiana University, ranked No. 11 in the FCS Coaches Poll. Butler’s only loss was against No. 12 Youngstown State, a 44-13 loss on Sept. 13.
Butler coach Jeff Voris said the Bulldogs head into the conference opener focused on improvement.
“We have to keep getting better every week, and to this point, we have,” Voris said.
“They can score in all three phases, so we have to be really good and prepared in all three phases,” Voris said. “The biggest thing you just can’t forget about is special teams. Everyone concentrates on how you are going to stop them, but when the ball gets kicked in space in special teams, they are really, really good.”
The Dolphins are a balanced team, averaging 354 yards per game, 173 of them coming on the ground. Jacksonville is a fast team, Voris said—something they’ll have to account for in all three phases of the game on Saturday.
“If you’re going to compete with Jacksonville, you have to start fast,” Voris said.
The person they’ll be looking to counter the Dolphins’ potent offense is junior quarterback Matt Shiltz.
Shiltz has 803 passing yards, six passing touchdowns, 182 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns on the season. A big chunk of those statistics came against Taylor University on Saturday, as he went 25-of-31 through the air for 347 yards and three passing touchdowns.
Shiltz was named the Pioneer Football League Co-offensive Player of the Week for his accomplishments. San Diego University wide receiver Reggie White shared the honors.
The quarterback gave due credit to his offensive line for his explosive numbers Saturday, which he put up over only thre quarters. Redshirt sophomore Malcolm Weaver finished off the game under center.
“The line was giving me good protection Saturday night, and I think that’s a good testament to them,” Shiltz said. “We haven’t given up a sack all year, so they have really been on their game these first three games.”
The key to getting the win Saturday, Shiltz said, comes well before the Bulldogs take the field in front of the home fans.
“I think it just goes back to having a good week of preparation,” Shiltz said. “Last week, we really emphasized some things we wanted to take care of on the field, and we went out and did them, converting on third down, and we just [went] out and [executed] the game plan.”
Senior offensive lineman Greg Ambrose said he’s excited for his final Homecoming game.
“Homecoming is always a really special time around here at Butler, and there’s a lot of activities,” Ambrose said. “Not just the football game, but the soccer game that night and all the activities going on during the day. It’s usually a great turnout, so I’m really excited to give the fans something to cheer about, and hopefully everything goes well.”
Shiltz said Homecoming is not the only thing motivating the team for Saturday’s game. The Bulldogs and the Dolphins have developed a rivalry over the last few years, which only adds to the atmosphere of Saturday’s game.
Last year’s contest, which was also the Bulldog’s PFL opener, was a 45-27 shootout in Jacksonville that saw 1,188 yards of total offense between the two teams.
2012 saw a 19-16 thriller on a cold, rainy day in Indianapolis, with the Bulldogs’ quarterback Matt Lancaster leading a 95-yard drive capped by him diving over the goal line for the game-winning touchdown with two seconds left, clinching a share of the conference championship.
Shiltz said it is unique to see a school from central Indiana become rivals with a team all the way from Florida.
“I think it’s just two good programs constantly going at it, and having big games year after year,” Shiltz said. “We want to go out there and prove to the schools from Florida that Midwest kids can play, and (Florida teams) want to go out there and beat the kids from the Midwest.”
The rivalry, Shiltz said, is not hostile; rather, it adds to the drive and competition of the game.
“It has turned into a good rivalry, but it’s a healthy rivalry,” Shiltz said. “And any time you can get some extra competition and play with a little extra edge, it’s always a great time.”
The game will kick off at noon Saturday.