When the final whistle blew on Sept. 1 in Youngstown, Ohio, and the Butler football team stormed the field, it wasn’t celebrating out of shock and awe. The Bulldogs were celebrating because they accomplished what they set out to do.
There have been many FCS vs. FBS upsets or FCS playoff surprises over the years, but Butler’s 23-21 win over then No. 24 Youngstown State may be the most shocking win in recent memory. The Penguins played in the national title game just two years ago and were picked in the preseason to finish fourth in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, known as one of the top leagues in the FCS.
Butler was picked to finish fourth in the Pioneer Football League, which does not offer scholarships to the players.
The Bulldogs scored 16 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to stun the country and the YSU sideline. But as Butler head coach Jeff Voris told his team, this game is banquet talk for after the season. The Bulldogs are now balancing getting past this historical win while using it to build momentum.
If it did do one thing, it’s that the win proved to the players they can play with anyone.
“Coach always talks about it, we don’t want to see wide eyes,” senior wide receiver Pace Temple told HERO Sports earlier this week. “We don’t want to go out there and be feeling like we weren’t supposed to be there. Be feeling like we were this Week 1 game where they’re going to come out and be feeling great toward their season and we’re going to be limping away as the little guy and a non-scholarship team … We’re feeling great starting off our season 1-0. But we’re also feeling not surprised.”
Temple played a huge role in the YSU win. Not only did the 6-foot-1, 200-pound Illinois native have 14 catches for 167 yards and a touchdown against an always-solid Bo Pelini-coached defense, he also recovered the onside kick that set up Drew Bevelhimer’s game-winning 44-yard field goal. This came right after Butler scored to make it 21-20, but failed on a two-point conversion.
“There are games every year that you mark a little more than others,” Temple said. “These are the types of games for me that I always get excited about. I definitely wanted to go in there and show that we’re not going to roll the ball out and be punching bags for 60 minutes. We’re going to go out there and compete.”
Temple, a captain and 2017 First Team All-Conference selection, is a prime example of a PFL player. The outside perception may be these players aren’t good enough to get a Division I scholarship. Not only did Butler’s win disprove that, it’s also blatantly false.
Temple had offers from Wyoming, North Dakota and a few other programs. Butler was also on his radar and had been talking to him early on. At first, Temple had the mindset of playing at the biggest school possible. But a freak knee injury during the last game of his senior year while he was holding a PAT and was forced to scramble made him reevaluate his college decision.
He wasn’t sure how far he wanted to move from his hometown of Geneva, redshirt and be just another number for a program. Plus, Voris had a connection to Temple’s high school coach.
“I realized how quickly it can be taken away from you and I knew I had to be ready for a life outside of football,” Temple said. “It took me back from wanting to play the biggest ball no matter where and I started to more realistically think about it. Butler literally checked off all the boxes. The coaching staff is incredible and consistent. The institution speaks for itself. It seemed like a great place for me. It’s been a perfect fit.”
Temple, along with all his teammates, don’t have a problem admitting Butler is a basketball school. But after their win last week, they’ve received a ton of congratulations from “outside sources that maybe wouldn’t necessarily tune into our football program.”
The PFL might be an oddball of sorts in Division I football. But a non-scholarship player doesn’t make them less of an athlete. Reigning conference champion San Diego has proved that with playoff wins the last two years. And Butler proved it in a big way against YSU.
“It’s definitely a chip on our shoulder,” Temple said. “I’ve always played with a chip on my shoulder, going back to my recruiting process and just not being the ideal build for my position. That goes team-wide too. The ‘do we belong here’ question gets brought up a lot. ‘They don’t think you belong here and they’re going to have you come in and think they’ll put up 60 points and the starters will be done in the first half.’ We use that as a chip on our shoulder as if they’re almost kind of looking down on us.”
“But we’re still putting in the same work and the same hours every day. I think that goes to show we love what we’re doing. We’re here going to school, going to classes, not getting scholarships, but still putting in all that extra work and putting our bodies through it. I think it’s a testament not only to this team but everyone in the PFL.”