November 21, 2009

Butler Captures PFL Championship

Butler’s record-setting football season will continue.  The Bulldogs assured that with a heart-pounding, 20-17, victory over Drake in a Pioneer Football League showdown at the Butler Bowl on Saturday, Nov. 21.

The win, which came on Butler’s final play of the game, gave the Bulldogs a school-record 10 wins against just one setback and a share of the PFL crown with Dayton.  Since the Bulldogs defeated Dayton during the regular season, Butler will be the host of the Gridiron Classic, pitting the champs of the PFL and the Northeast Conference, on Saturday, Dec. 5.  That game will be played at the Butler Bowl, starting at 12 noon.

Sophomore David Lang kicked a 27-yard field goal with 0:01 left on the clock to give Butler a 20-17 lead.  And when Jeff Larsen made the final tackle following multiple laterals on the ensuing kickoff, Butler had the PFL championship.

“A group of guys would never deserve anything more than this,” said Butler head coach Jeff Voris after the team’s game-ending celebration.  “The effort that they’ve put in since August and some of them for four years has been unbelievable.  They earned it, not just today, but over time.”

Butler, picked fifth in the league’s preseason poll, earned its first PFL title since 1994 and its second overall.  This year’s squad became the first in school history to record 10 victories, breaking the mark it had shared with five previous Butler teams.

And the Bulldogs will be playing in a post-season game for the first time since 1991, when Butler participated in the NCAA Division II playoffs at eventual national champ Pittsburg State.

The road to this year’s title was anything but easy.  Butler defeated Morehead State, 28-21 in overtime, and beat San Diego, 25-24, on a 37-yard field goal by Lang in the closing seconds.  The Bulldogs pulled out a three-point win at Dayton, stopping the Flyers’ final play just inches short of the goal-line, and picked up a seven-point win against Davidson.

But the finale against Drake may have topped them all for drama. 

“It’s kind of been the make-up of this team,” noted Voris.  “The defense has never really let anyone run away from us and we’ve competed on offense, made plays on special teams and done whatever it takes to give us that opportunity.  We play the play.  They’re not concerned about what just happened; they’re looking for their next opportunity.”

It was Drake that took advantage of the first opportunity, turning a Butler fumble at midfield into a 23-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead less than seven minutes into the game.  And the visitors had another opportunity minutes later after recovering another Butler fumble, but couldn’t move the ball against Butler’s resilient defense.

Butler eventually tied the game on a 29-yard field goal by Lang with 0:11 left in the second period.

Drake hit first in the third quarter, following another Butler fumble and a 21-yard return by Ben Morrison to the Butler seven-yard line.  Pat Cashmore found the end zone on the first play to put the visitors back on top, 10-3.

Butler struck right back, taking the ensuing kickoff and marching 71 yards in three plays to tie the game.  The big play was a 47-yard run by tailback Ryan Hitchcock, setting up an 18-yard end-around play to Jordan Koopman for the touchdown.

The two teams traded touchdowns in the fourth quarter.  Butler took the lead for the first time on a 12-play, 90-yard drive that finished with a 32-yard Andrew Huck to Zach Watkins touchdown pass with 12:36 remaining.  But Drake came right back to tie the game on a 53-yard Mike Piatkowski to Joey Orlando touchdown pass.

The closing minutes had drama for both teams.  Butler had the ball at midfield with just under three minutes remaining, but Drake stopped the drive with an interception by Michael Lahart.  Butler took it right back on a pass interception by Nick Caldicott, his second of the game, with 1:27 left.

“That was a huge play,” said Voris.  “It was one of several huge defensive plays in the game.”

Butler started the game-winning drive at the Drake 49-yard line with 0:43 remaining.  Huck moved the team to the Drake 33-yard line with 0:18 remaining, and there he found Watkins with a sideline pass at the Drake 14-yard line.  A five-yard run by tailback Scott Gray put the ball on the nine-yard line with four seconds remaining, settin the stage for Lang’s second game-winning field goal this season.

“We were preparing for overtime, but getting the ball back on that interception when we did gave us all the time we needed,” noted Voris.  “We had timeouts and we just had to get it in field goal range.  The team had all the confidence in the world on that final play.”

Butler out-gained Drake, 349-249 in the hard-fought contest.  Gray led Butler’s rushers with 69 yards on 15 carries, while Hitchcock added 60 yards on seven attempts.  Huck completed 24 of 35 passes for 234 yards and Watkins had 11 catches for 109 yards.  Linebacker Derek Guggenberger paced Butler’s defense with 11 tackles.

Senior wide receiver Dan Bohrer finished with four receptions for 38 yards, giving him 2,172 yards for his career.  He’s four yards shy of the all-time Butler record, held by eric Voss (1990-93).  Bohrer holds Butler’s all-time records for receptions (185) and touchdown catches (22).