Missed offensive opportunities, defensive breakdowns and a fourth-quarter interception enabled Butler University to slip by Franklin College 31-28 on Saturday at Franklin’s Stewart “Red” Faught Stadium.
It was the first night game played at the stadium.
The loss marked the second straight week the No. 13 Division III Grizzlies had fallen in a 3-point squeaker. They lost their season-opener 30-27 at NCAA Division III top-ranked Mount Union (Ohio).
Butler is a Division I Football Championship Subdivision program.
“It was one of those would of, could of, should of games,” 11th-year Franklin coach Mike Leonard said. “I like to think of us as an opportunistic team, but give credit to Butler; they got the job done.
“Yes, I’m disappointed, but we’ve got good things ahead of us. In the short term is winning the (Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference) conference championship, but our guys have their sights on something bigger, but this is the first step.”
Franklin took an 14-0 lead thanks to senior quarterback Jonny West and senior wide receiver Kyle Linville, who were productive in the opening half. But the Bulldogs eventually regrouped.
Butler (2-1) went to a no-huddle offense and streaked down the field capping an 80-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown by quarterback Matt Lancaster to close the gap to 14-7 at halftime.
On its first possession of the second half, Butler marched 67 yards in 11 plays to tie the game on a 6-yard rushing touchdown by Trae Heeter.
With momentum on their side, the Bulldogs grabbed a 21-14 lead, making it 21 unanswered points, on a 2-yard touchdown pass from Lancaster to Brendan Collins.
The Grizzlies tied the score at 21-all when West engineered an 18-play, 78-yard drive capped by a 6-yard touchdown pass to Linville with 8:44 remaining.
For the game, West completed 36 of 58 attempts for 360 yards and three touchdowns.
With his 13 catches on the night for 154 yards, Linville became Franklin’s career record-holder for receptions, breaking Joel Taylor’s mark of 207.
Butler pushed the lead to 28-21, converting an interception into the go-ahead touchdown.
Butler added a 33-yard field goal to push the lead to 31-21 with 41 seconds to play.
On the ensuing kickoff, Franklin senior Zack Corpe returned the kick 88 yards for a touchdown.
Butler sealed the win, however, by recovering an onside kick.
“It was a battle,” Butler coach Jeff Voris said. “We were too up-and-down for the type of game it was going to be. They’re too good a team, and they were locked in and played better than we did.
“We didn’t match their emotion and intensity to start the game.”
Despite the loss, Corpe said the Grizzlies remain upbeat as they bid for a fourth straight HCAC championship.
“Our defense got down a little bit, and we thought we were going to cruise,” Corpe said. “But anything can happen on a college football field.”
The Grizzlies (0-2) started the season last year by losing their first two games and then reeled off nine straight victories, including a trip to the national playoffs.
Franklin hosts conference rival Manchester at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.