Story and photo courtesy of Western Illinois Athletics
MACOMB, Ill. – Western Illinois used a key defensive stop at the end of the game to keep Butler out of the endzone and secure a season-opening 23-15 win Thursday night (Aug. 30) at Hanson Field. The win snapped a six-game overall losing streak dating back to last year, and three consecutive losses at home.
Not able to convert on 3rd-and-11 in Butler territory Western decided to punt on 4th-and-3 from the 33. Pat Smith launched his punt high in the air and David McDaniel downed it at the one. Butler converted on 3rd-and-10, then later on 4th-and-7 picked up 25 yards. With 3rd-and-goal from the seven, and no timeouts, McDaniel made a stop on Matt Lancaster’s completion to Trae Heeter and kept him inbounds to run out the clock.
“There is no doubt you literally just have to dig down deep and lay it on the line and find a way to win the ball game. I’m very proud of the defense and their effort, and certainly very proud at moments at what the offense did,” said head coach Mark Hendrickson. “We do practice the 2-minute drill a lot. We finish a lot of our practices when our players are tired and I guarantee you they know now why we do that. So in the chaos, I believe our players kept their poise very well and got lined up well, and executed pretty well overall.”
Smith, his first game handling both the place kicking and punting duties, tied a personal-high with three field goals, all in the first half (29, 19 and 29 yards). The Leathernecks’ opening drive used 7:32 off the clock as a 16-play drive resulted in Smith’s first field goal.
Western took a 13-play drive that covered more than five minutes for his second field goal. Keith Enderlein intercepted his second career pass, and ran it 21 yards down to the Butler 17. Three Caulton Ray running plays later resulted in a 5-yard TD as Western took a 16-0 lead into the locker room.
Ray and the Leathernecks started the second half with a 7:50 drive, capping it with a 2-yard touchdown run. His two TD runs matched a career-high.
Butler got on the board late in the third quarter with a 10-yard TD pass from Lancaster to Heeter. The Bulldogs (0-1) successfully executed an onsides kick, but the defense held on 4th-and-7.
Midway through the fourth, Lancaster scored from two yards out, and a 2-point conversion pass from Tom Judge to Matt Jenson made it an eight-point game.
For the 13th time in program history, and second straight dating back to last year, two Leatherneck running backs gained more than 100 yards in a game. Nikko Watson rushed for a game-high 109 yards on 25 carries while Ray finished with 106 yards on 28 attempts and two scores.
Smith not only matched his career-high of three field goals, he also averaged 43.7 yards on three punts, and put all three inside the 20-yard line. Three of his six kickoffs were touchbacks.
“Pat Smith certainly had a great night. He kicked off for us very well, basically put the ball where we asked him to. He made every field goal and PAT attempt, and he had some excellent punts – especially that one at the end of the game that was downed by David McDaniel. His role in special teams was huge tonight,” said Hendrickson.
Josh Hudson completed 13-of-22 passes for 109 yards with an interception. Justin Morgan (49 yards) and Charles Chestnut (42) both caught five passes.
Redshirt-freshman linebacker JJ Raffelson made an impact in his first game with a team-leading nine stops and broke up a pass. Ryan Demming had six tackles and two quarterback hurries, while Kevin Kintzel added five tackles and 2.5 tackles for a loss. The sophomore linebacker also broke up two passes.
Sean Grady and Bryce Barry led the Butler defense with 15 tackles each. Lancaster finished 16-of-35 for 209 yards and a TD along with an interception.
“When we look at the tape tomorrow afternoon I know we are going to see a lot of bright spots and a lot of positive things. There’s also going to be a long list of things we can improve on,” stated Hendrickson.
Western plays host to Indianapolis next week on Saturday, September 8th. Kickoff is scheduled for 3 p.m. at Hanson Field.