Bulldogs Fall At Western Illinois, 23-15
MACOMB, ILL. -- A malfunctioning clock put a strange ending on Butler's furious comeback attempt and the Bulldogs wound up dropping a 23-15 decision to host Western Illinois at Hanson Field on Thursday (Aug. 28). It was the first game of 2012 for both teams.
The Bulldogs, playing their earliest season-opener ever, battled back from a 23-0 deficit and they were four yards away from a potential tie as time was running out. With the game clock not working, the Butler players were scrambling to line up for a final play attempt when the referee signaled the end of the game.
"We knew we were running out of time and that we had to hurry," said Butler head coach Jeff Voris of the ending. "We were hoping to get one more play off, but time expired."
The clock malfunctioned during Butler's final drive of the contest, and the last 38 seconds of the contest were kept on the field by the game officials. Butler quarterback Matt Lancaster, who engineered the second-half comeback, completed a three-yard pass to teammate Trae Heeter, but the Bulldogs' running back was stopped just shy of the out-of-bounds line and four yards away from the goal line. As Butler's players were running back to the line of scrimmage, the referee sounded the final whistle.
The ending didn't overshadow a stellar second half performance by Butler. The Bulldogs, who fell behind 16-0 at halftime and trailed 23-0 midway through the third quarter, scored the game's final 15 points and finished with a 14-play, 95-yard drive that came up just four yards short.
Lancaster, a transfer from Illinois State making his first start for the Bulldogs, led Butler on a 77-yard drive at the end of the third quarter and found Heeter with a 10-yard touchdown pass for Butler's first 2012 score.
He then directed a seven-play, 65-yard drive midway through the final period and scored his first Butler touchdown on a two-yard run. A nifty end-around pass from wide receiver Tom Judge to tight end Matt Jenson completed the two-point conversion and made it a one-possession game with just over seven minutes remaining.
Western Illinois ate up much of that time with its ensuing possession, and when Bulldogs finally stopped the drive and regained the ball at their own one-yard line, just 1:55 remained. Lancaster moved the team downfield in 14 plays, including a 38-yard pass to Judge that took the ball to the Western Illinois seven-yard line and set the stage for the game-ending sequence.
"We played really, really well, and except for a couple of plays, we could have pulled off a stunner," added Voris. "Our effort was outstanding on both sides of the ball, and on special teams all night. The defense stood in there and kept playing hard right to the end. There were a lot of good things to take from this game."
The Leathernecks mounted several long drives in the first half, but came away with just one touchdown and three field goals. The touchdown came after a pass interception that gave the host squad a first down on the Butler 17-yard line.
Western Illinois looked like it might break things open after mounting a 91-yard touchdown drive midway through the third quarter, but the Bulldogs immediately answered with their first score and then seized the momentum in the final period.
Lancaster finished the game with 209 passing yards (16-35-1) and 46 rushing yards on nine carries. Heeter picked up 49 yards on 12 attempts. The junior tailback also led Butler in receiving with four catches for 26 yards, while Judge, a converted quarterback, had three receptions for 74 yards.
Defensive back Sean Grady and linebacker Bryce Barry each sparked Butler's defense with 15 tackles, while linebacker Jordan Ridley added 14. Grady also came up with a pass interception in the contest.
The Bulldogs will play their home opener on Saturday, Sept. 8, against Franklin. That game at the Butler Bowl will start at 6 p.m. (ET).