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Butler Bulldogs Set to Open 2014 Football Campaign at Wittenberg

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – The Butler Bulldogs will make the first of back-to-back trips to Ohio when they visit Wittenberg on Saturday, Sept. 6, to kickoff the 2014 season. The opener for both teams at Edwards-Maurer Field is slated for 7 p.m. (ET). The Wittenberg Tigers have 12 starters back from last year’s successful squad, which rolled off a 10-game winning streak, won a fourth conference championship in five years and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Division III playoffs. Butler is seeking to open the season with a road win for the first time since 2010.

The Tigers were unbeaten at Edwards-Maurer Field and enter this season with an eight-game home field winning streak. Butler also is coming off a successful campaign, posting a 9-4 final record, capturing a share of a second consecutive Pioneer Football League title and becoming the first PFL team to advance to the NCAA Division I FCS Championship in 2013. Head coach Jeff Voris, entering his ninth season with the Bulldogs, has guided Butler to three PFL championships in the past five years. Following the season-opener at Wittenberg, Butler will return to Ohio to play Youngstown State on Saturday, Sept. 13.

The Bulldogs will no doubt be up against a very formidable team when they travel to face the Tigers. Butler was picked to finish fourth in the Pioneer Football League in this year’s preseason poll of league coaches. The Bulldogs, bidding for a third consecutive league crown, received two first place votes in the poll and finished behind San Diego, Dayton and Jacksonville. The top four teams in the poll were separated by just 13 points. Drake was picked fifth, followed by Marist, Campbell, Morehead State, Stetson, Davidson and Valparaiso.

Making things more difficult for the Bulldogs, head coach Jeff Voris has to replace 15 starters from last year’s championship squad, and that group of graduated players accounted for a significant portion of Butler’s offensive and defensive production in 2013. After a Pioneer Football League title in 2012, the Bulldogs were able to return their 4 senior captains for the 2013 season, as well as others, who accounted for 277 of the Bulldogs’ 302 points in 2012. Graduation claimed 100% of Butler’s 2013 passing yards and 79% of the team’s rushing yards.

Photo: Butler Athletics/Glen Somers (Brent Smith)
Photo: Butler Athletics/Glen Somers (Brent Smith)

On the positive side, Voris can look to 36 returning letterwinners to form the nucleus of this year’s squad. Among those returnees are six players who earned All-PFL recognition a year ago, including offensive linemen David Tiwari and Mike Demos, defensive linemen Kyle Annis and Glen Somers, placekicker Jon Treloar and return specialist Marquese Martin-Hayes. Tiwari and Demos started all 13 games on the offensive line last year, along with senior Greg Ambrose. Annis and Somers each had 13 starts on the defensive line, while senior Christian Eble was a starter in eight games. Also back from last year’s starting unit is senior safety David Burke, who led the Bulldogs in tackles in 2013. Unfortunately for Butler, Burke is sitting a three game team suspension to start the 2014 campaign. Wide receiver Derek O’Connor has also returned this season, after sitting out a team suspension in 2013. O’Connor finished second on the team in pass receiving with 49 catches for 661 yards and three touchdowns in 2012.

After finishing second in the PFL rushing offense and total offense in 2013, Butler will have a very different look in the offensive backfield in 2014. Graduation claimed two of the top performers in Butler football history, quarterback Matt Lancaster and running back Trae Heeter. Lancaster finished his two-year career in fourth place on Butler’s all-time passing list with 5,469 passing yards. Heeter, a four-year regular, wound up as the fourth-leading rusher in Butler history with 3,329 yards. The two helped lead Butler to back-to-back PFL championships in 2012 and 2013. First in line to step into the quarterback position are senior Matt Shiltz and sophomore Malcolm Weaver. Shiltz played in 11 games last season, primarily on special teams. He had one rushing attempt and no pass attempts. Weaver saw action in all 13 games as a wingback and finished fourth on the team in rushing. He had one pass attempt.

Among the players hoping to take over at running back are senior Don Stewart, junior Rico Watson, sophomore Guy DiBalsamo and redshirt-freshman Sam Schrader. Watson was the team’s third-leading rusher a year ago, but he’ll open the season on the sidelines while recovering from a knee injury suffered last season. DiBalsamo rushed for 54 yards in 13 games last season, while Stewart picked up 25 yards in nine games. Stewart leads the returnees with 484 career rushing yards.

Butler head coach Jeff Voris won’t have to worry about experience in his kicking game with the return of 2013 starters Jon Treloar, Brian Akialis and Ian Dobek. Treloar emerged as a consistent scoring threat while handling Butler’s placekicking duties last season. He connected on 54 of 58 (93.1%) PAT kicks, and he hit nine of 11 (81.8%) field goal attempts. The left-foot kicker finished second on the team in scoring with 81 points, while setting school single game (9) and single season (54) records for PAT kicks. Akialis, who also saw time at wide receiver, averaged 37.0 yards on 59 punts for the Bulldogs, while Dobek averaged 51.4 yards on 78 kickoffs. Dobek enters the 2014 campaign as Butler’s top back-up at both punter and placekicker.

The Bulldogs may have large shoes to fill and a lot to prove on the football field this season, but will not go blindly into the fight. Jeff Voris enters his ninth season with the Bulldogs and stands third on Butler’s all-time list for coaching victories (50). Voris coached the Bulldogs to a home opener win against the Wittenberg Tigers, 49-24 in the non-conference home opener under the lights at the Butler Bowl last season, and will look to take the bite to the Tigers again on the road.

Chris Fultz is a senior writer for the Indiana Sports Report and is recognized as an accredited member of the media by Butler Athletics and has full media access. Follow @CafultzISR and the @IndySportsRep on Twitter.

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