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TSU routs Butler
When Tennessee State was a football powerhouse decades ago, the Tigers featured dominating defenses with names like Richard Dent, Ed “Too Tall” Jones and Claude Humphrey.
In returning to the playoffs for the first time since 1999, the Tigers gave a nod to their past on Saturday, using a suffocating defensive performance to pound overmatched Butler 31-0 in an FCS first-round game at the Butler Bowl.
It marked the first playoff victory for TSU (10-3) since 1986 — when coach Rod Reed was still a player — and advanced the Tigers to next week’s showdown at second-seeded Eastern Illinois, which beat TSU 34-16 during the regular season.
“TSU has a winning tradition, and to be that team that kind of gets us over the hump is huge,” Tigers safety Daniel Fitzpatrick said. “We’ll always be talked about in TSU history. But our main goal is still ahead. We have EIU to take care of coming up, so we’ll enjoy this on the way back home and then get back to work.”
The Tigers, who entered the contest with the fifth-ranked defense in the FCS, overwhelmed the Bulldogs (9-4) in recording their first shutout since 2006.
TSU intercepted Butler quarterback Matt Lancaster three times, turned the Bulldogs away three times in the red zone and surrendered only 257 total yards.
Fitzpatrick recorded two of those interceptions, increasing his nation-leading total to eight.
“I think it was one of our better defensive performances,” Tigers defensive end Anthony Bass said. “We knew coming into the playoffs we’d have to play strong and physical. We’ve been wanting to pitch a shutout all year. We came close to a few shutouts but let up at the end. But we didn’t do that today.”
Butler twice took over the ball deep in TSU territory after turnovers, once in the first half after a Mike German fumble and once early in the second half after an A.C. Leonard fumble.
But TSU held the Bulldogs without a first down both times.
“On defense, we have a saying, ‘Just put the ball down,’” Fitzpatrick said. “It doesn’t matter where you put it. You can put it on the (1-yard line), but our job is still to stop them. We did that for the most part today. We dug in and didn’t let them score.”
German, who hadn’t played since Oct. 12 because of a collarbone injury, completed 14 of 24 passes for 201 yards and a pair of first-half touchdowns before sitting down in the third quarter.
Tigers coach Rod Reed hadn’t announced whether he would start German or redshirt freshman Ronald Butler, but he opted for the junior from Florida.
“Ronald Butler did an excellent job for us, but we knew we needed some experience in this game,” Reed said.
German guided the Tigers on an 82-yard drive late in the first quarter, capping it with a 25-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Mitchell. His second touchdown pass — a 17-yarder to Wesley Samuels — gave the Tigers a comfortable 17-0 lead at halftime.
Written by John Glennon, The Tennessean