Senior quarterback Will Bardo fumbles during a game gainst Butler University, Saturday, Nov. 2, at Welcome Stadium. The Flyers recovered the fumble but lost the game 33-30 to fall out of first place in the Pioneer Football League standings. (Ethan Klosterman/Photo Editor)
By: CHRIS BENDEL – Asst. Sports Editor
It was a tale of two halves for the University of Dayton football team in a 33-30 loss at the hands of Butler University Saturday, Nov. 2, at Welcome Stadium.
The Bulldogs outscored the Flyers, who went into the half with a 27-13 lead, by 17 points and outgained UD in total yards 203-86 in the second half.
Both teams entered the game with 4-1 conference records and in a four-way tie for first in the PFL. With conference championship implications on the line, Dayton’s title hopes took a large blow in the second half thanks to an ineffective offense marred by injures to two of UD’s key offensive weapons.
An injury during UD’s first offensive series of the game to redshirt sophomore running back Connor Kacsor plagued the Flyer’s rushing attack and allowed Butler’s defense to limit UD to a field goal in the second half.
Adding to the injury woes, senior quarterback Will Bardo left the game in the fourth quarter with an apparent right leg injury when UD was already trailing by three.
“We got out there and had a great first half,” head coach Rick Chamberlin said. “In the second half, they stepped it up a bit, their defense did. They started stopping our offense. It hurts though, when you don’t have Connor.”
The Dayton medical staff held Kascor out for the final three quarters of the game over concerns of a possible concussion stemming from a big hit the team’s leading rusher took. He entered Saturday with four consecutive games with at least 100 yards rushing.
After rumbling for a 27-yard rush on his first carry that helped set up UD’s opening touchdown, the loss of Kacsor for the remainder of the game allowed the Butler defense to key on Bardo and the Dayton passing attack.
With Kacsor sidelined in the second half, the UD offense also struggled in the short yardage situations where he had been so effective in the first eight games of the season. Dayton converted just 2 of 11 third downs in the game.
“When it’s 3rd-and-3 and we need to get a first, [Connor] would find a way to get that first down. We missed that today,” Chamberlin said.
UD’s rushing attack also suffered from senior tailback Rob Washington’s ankle injury, allowing the Bulldogs to outgain the Flyers 98-9 on the ground in the second half.
On the defensive side of the ball, Dayton had trouble containing the reigning PFL player of the year, Butler senior quarterback Matt Lancaster.
“Defensively, we just couldn’t stop Matt Lancaster. He made some plays today,” Chamberlin said.
Lancaster finished the day 18 of 27 passing for 232 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for game highs of 121 yards and two touchdowns.
After Lancaster’s one-yard run gave Butler a 30-27 lead with 12:17 to go, the UD offense responded by driving the ball down the field against the Butler defense before on a 2nd-and-13 at Butler’s 16-yard line, Bardo went down grasping his leg on a Bulldog sack.
With 11:02 left in the fourth quarter, he exited the game, helped off the field by UD medical personnel, leaving redshirt sophomore quarterback Luke Johnson next in line to take the remaining snaps under center for the Flyers.
On the play following Bardo’s injury, needing to get to the Butler 3-yard line for a first down, the Bulldogs held UD to a field goal attempt when Johnson’s pass to senior wide receiver Gabe Macis came up short of the sticks. A 25-yard field goal from sophomore kicker William Will knotted up the score at 30 with 8:12 remaining.
The Butler offense would respond with a field goal of its own and regained a 33-30 lead with 3:29 to go.
In need of a touchdown and with no timeouts remaining, the Dayton offense took over with 2:01 to go on their own 12-yard line.
The Dayton offense, sans Bardo, who engineered a comeback drive against the University of San Diego in a similar situation, had to move the ball into field goal position if they had any hope to tie the game in the final two minutes.
Chamberlin offered a few words of advice to his young quarterback, telling him, “to play within himself. Do what you practice all week and be composed.”
On the first play of the drive, Johnson found senior wide receiver Gary Hunter to move the chains, but three plays later his team found itself in a 4th-and-3 on its own 29 with the game on the line.
Johnson completed a pass to Macis, but the Butler defense stopped him short of the first down marker, sealing the win and putting Dayton’s PFL title hopes in a huge hole.
UD dropped to 4-2 in the PFL and fifth place in the conference standings behind four teams with one loss each.
After a disappointing loss on senior night and their last game in front of their home fans, Chamberlin said he now looks to his seniors for leadership in the upcoming weeks.
“There’s still two games to play,” Chamberlin said. “It’s up to our seniors to make sure that our team responds the right way.”
Dayton will go on the road to finish its regular season, starting at Drake University Saturday, Nov. 9, at 1 p.m. at Drake Stadium in Des Moines, Iowa.