INDIANAPOLIS, IND. – Facing one of the Pioneer Football League’s co-defending champions for the second straight game, the young Stetson football team (1-4, 0-2 PFL) showed a marked improvement this week before succumbing, 35-15, to Butler (4-2, 2-0) on a gray Saturday afternoon at the Butler Bowl in Indianapolis.
Stetson’s defense in particular proved more sound against the Bulldogs than it had against San Diego, holding Butler to 121 first half yards and well under its season yardage average for the game, but four Hatter turnovers, two of them in the red zone, hurt the team and, along with a pair of safeties allowed, were impossible to overlook.
“Frustrating is a great way to describe it,” head coach Roger Hughes said. “We’ve got to stop turning the ball over. We’ve got to start making plays. We’re very close in some areas. We show spurts of being very good but, as you sometimes see with a young team, we’re not consistent enough.
“Certainly it was a marked improvement from last week but, as I told the team, when anything less than winning becomes acceptable, then we’ve lost. We can’t be happy about this, unless it’s a win. Am I happy with the effort? Yes. Am I happy with the improvement? Yes. But, we as a team can not accept moral victories. You either win or you lose.”
Jonathan Jerozal received extensive playing time at quarterback and competed well, completing 11-of-15 passes for 104 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. He also ran for 36 yards. Starting quarterback Ryan Tentler was Stetson’s leading rusher with 67 yards on seven carries. Donald Payne was his usual presence on defense, leading Stetson with 13 tackles, one for a loss, with a pair of pass breakups. Zach Dyer had 3.5 tackles for loss amongst his 11 stops with two pass preakups. That Hatters held Butler QB Matt Lancaster, the 2012 PFL Offensive Player of the Year, to just 133 passing yards.
Both defenses asserted themselves early on, as each of the first seven possessions of the game ended in a punt with just one first down per team in that span. The first break came with 1:51 left in the first quarter. Ryan Tentler’s long pass over the middle was snared by Butler’s David Burke. Burke ran it back 26 yards to set the Bulldogs up at the Hatter 21 yard line. Three plays later, Trae Heeter was able to get to the corner on the left side and maneuver his way into the end zone to put Butler up 7-0 with 33 seconds left in the first quarter.
The first quarter ended on a high note for Stetson. Tentler took off on a scramble from his own 27 yard line and was not brought back to the ground until he had run for 57 yards down to Butler’s 16. It was Stetson’s longest play of the year thus far. Unfortunately, moments into the second quarter, Stetson would fumble on a second-and-goal play and the score remained 7-0. The Hatter defense held on the ensuing possession but fine special teams work left Stetson starting its next drive on its own two-yard line.
On the first play of that drive, Butler defensive end Jesse Correll broke through Stetson’s line and sacked Jerozal in the end zone for a safety, to put Butler up 9-0 at the 11:25 mark.
Stetson got the break that it needed with 9:05 left in the half when Glenn Adesoji made his first career interception, setting the Hatters up with a first-and-10 at their won 32 yard line. Jerozal would lead the team 68 yards in 12 plays to a touchdown. Darius Chapes had one of the drive’s key plays, picking up a fourth-and-one with the Hatters stuck just outside of field goal range at the Butler 30. Eventually, it was Terrance Burt finding pay dirt from five yards out with 4:17 left in the half.
Stetson held a 131-121 lead in total offense at intermission, including a 93-48 cushion on the ground.atters
Butler opened the second half by asserting itself, first with a 13-play, 76-yard 5:12 touchdown drive off of the opening kickoff, capped by a six-yard pass from Lancaster to tight end Zack Wolfe. The looping cross-field pass gave Butler a 16-7 edge at the 9:48 mark. After an interception, Butler drove 43 yards for another touchdown, a five-yard Heeter plunge, taking a 23-7 lead at the 6:12 mark.
The two methodical scoring drives did not deter the resilient Hatters, however. After a squib kick gave the team good field position at their own 40, the Hatters smoothly marched 60 yards in eight plays for a touchdown. On third-and-six at the eight yard line, Jerozal hit Rob Coggin underneath and the PalmHarbor native battled his way to the goal line from there, making it 23-13. Hughes called time out and decided to go for two points. Jerozal rolled out to the right and found Coggin in the end zone for the conversion, making it a 23-15 game with 2:46 left in the third quarter.
Three plays later, a 51-yard touchdown run right up the middle by Butler’s Rico Watson extended the home team’s lead to 30-15.
After a 24-yard punt return by Chris Crawford, Stetson started a drive at Butler’s 31-yard line with 13:09 to play. Keyed by a 22-yard scramble by Jerozal, the Hatters had the ball in a goal-to-go situation but Thad Satre would pick off a pass at the four yard line to end the Stetson threat.
Stetson impressively continued its charge though, forcing a three-and-out. On the punt, the eighth Stetson had forced on the day, Darius Chapes broke through and blocked the kick. Keegan Tanner recovered it and gave the Hatters another shot on offense with 12:02 to go. The Bulldogs stopped the Hatters on that drive and then marched for a 27-yard field goal by Jon Treloar for a 33-15 cushion with 5:37 to play.
Butler scored the game’s final two points at the 3:55 mark when an errant shotgun snap went out of the end zone for a safety, making the score 35-15.
The Hatters are back in action next Saturday, Oct. 12, when they play host to Dayton at Spec Martin Stadium. Tickets are still available and can be purchased here online at GoHatters.com/tix or by calling (386) 822-HATS.