Commentary: Butler beating Youngstown State 'one you don't expect'
FARGO—Jeff Voris sees just one problem with his Butler football team's massive upset of Youngstown State last week: The element of surprise is gone for the Bulldogs' opening game of 2019.
That's when Butler is scheduled to play mighty North Dakota State, the kings of Division I FCS football, at Target Field in Minneapolis.
"We're not going to be able to sneak up on them, I guess," the Butler coach said. "I don't know if we did ourselves any favors by winning this game. They're not going to be overlooking us."
Voris was joking. He knows taking on the Bison, or any Missouri Valley Football Conference team, is a monumental task for his nonscholarship team from Indianapolis. Prior to the Bulldogs beating the Penguins 23-21 last Saturday, Butler was winless in nine games against Valley teams since 2010—and eight of them were as lopsided as an over-inflated volleyball.
There's another important reason Voris wouldn't trade the win over Youngstown State for anything: He says his team's win at Stambaugh Stadium over Bo Pelini's squad is the biggest in program history. Butler has fielded a football program since 1887.
"It's one you don't expect," Voris said. "But you show up and compete. This was our 10th shot against a fully funded FCS program and we finally got one."
You have to take the wins when you can get them, especially one of this magnitude for a Pioneer League team.
Pelini, in his postgame comments after Butler's Drew Bevelhimer nailed a 44-yard field goal with 4 seconds left to beat the 25th-ranked Penguins, called the result "mind-blowing." It's hard to argue with that analysis.
Youngstown State is just two seasons removed from playing in the FCS national title game against James Madison. The Penguins last year took NDSU, the eventual national champion, to overtime before losing. Butler, meanwhile, was picked to finish fourth in the Pioneer League this season and last year lost to middling Valley team Illinois State 45-0. In 2016, the Bulldogs lost 41-25 to an Indiana State team that tied for last in the Valley.
Most key stat: Youngstown State offers 63 scholarships in football, Butler offers zero.
"It's hard to consistently move the ball on those teams. They are so well-coached you don't tend to get a lot of chunk plays, so you put your defense out there a lot and they get worn down and give up explosive plays," Voris said. "You may hang in there and it's a 10-0 game at halftime, but then it snowballs on you."
That's not the way the game unfolded at Youngstown. The Bulldogs' rallied from a 21-7 deficit in the fourth quarter. The Bulldogs scored a touchdown with 1:20 left, but failed on a two-point conversion and trailed 21-20. Then standout receiver Pace Temple recovered an onside kick and Butler drove 27 yards to the Penguins 27 to set up Bevelhimer's winning kick.
Temple, a senior from Geneva, Ill., caught five passes on Butler's final two drives and finished with 14 catches for 167 yards. He was named the FCS offensive player of the week.
While Voris called the victory Butler's biggest, it's not like his teams haven't had success. They made the FCS playoffs the first year the Pioneer League was eligible in 2013, losing 31-0 in the first round to Tennessee State. Butler also won the conference in 2012.
Its best season was 2009, before the Pioneer League champion received an automatic bid to the playoffs, when Butler went 11-1 and won the Gridiron Classic bowl game against Northeast Conference champ Central Connecticut State.
Not many have noticed, frankly. Butler is a basketball school in a basketball-crazy state, having made back-to-back Final Fours in 2010-11. The football team draws about 3,000 fans a game and media attention is scant. The hoops team plays in wonderful Hinkle Fieldhouse, one of the most famous arenas in basketball. It's named after longtime Bulldogs basketball coach Tony Hinkle, who also happened to coach Butler's football team for 32 years and is the program's leader in victories by a large margin.
The University of San Diego has dominated the Pioneer in recent seasons and won first-round playoff games the last two years. Both times, that qualified the Toreros for a matchup at the Fargodome against NDSU. Both games ended in lopsided Bison victories.
Voris and Butler will get a taste of playing NDSU on Aug. 31, 2019, before an expected crowd of more than 30,000 at the Minnesota Twins' baseball stadium. The game was originally scheduled for the Fargodome, but Butler agreed to play in Minneapolis.
"It'll be a great experience for our guys. I don't think you wake up saying you want to play North Dakota State, but the opportunity came and when the time comes I know our guys will be ready to compete," Voris said. "The unique opportunity of playing in Minneapolis, playing in that stadium in that environment will be a memory and experience that will last a lifetime for them."