The Wartburg football team never trailed in its second-round playoff game at Saint Johns on Saturday. The Knights scored on the game’s first possession and took advantage of five turnovers to move on to the NCAA Division III quarterfinals with a 23-20 victory.
An undefeated season continues for the No. 12 Knights and senior tight end Tom Butters.
“It felt really good to get a tough win on the road, especially against a top-four team in the country,” said Butters, a 2019 Mid-Prairie graduate. “Our (offensive coordinator), coach Wheeler, came into the game saying ‘if we can run the ball inside, we will win the game.’ And when we needed to, we were able.”
Butters and the Wartburg offensive line have paved the way for over 215 rushing yards per game this season with 38 rushing touchdowns.
The Knights have outscored their opponents 492-87 on the way to a 12-0 record. Butters was one of 12 first-team all-conference selections for the American Rivers Conference champions.
“Tom has been instrumental in the success of our offense this season and has really turned into one of our top playmakers,” said Wartburg head coach Chris Winters. “He has always been a great athlete, but I think the difference this season has been his approach in preparing himself every week.
“He has really matured and understands the commitment it takes on a daily basis to be successful both on and off the field. Tom has worked hard to put himself in this position and I am happy that his approach is paying off with great success this fall.”
After the 2020 season was canceled, Butters saw his first action in 2021, finishing with six catches for 101 yards and a touchdown. The Knights finished 7-3.
This season, the 6-foot-5 senior has 29 receptions for 376 yards and five touchdowns through 12 games.
“I have had to make some sacrifices, staying up here for most of the summers in college, and committing myself to the offseason workouts, along with dieting,” Butters said about his progression. “Also, becoming more and more in-tune with how our offense really works, and the big picture of it.”
Butters had four catches for 114 yards and two scores during a 65-0 homecoming win over Nebraska Wesleyan earlier this season. On November 12, he stepped up with five catches for 66 yards and a touchdown in a 19-14 win over Coe College, clinching the ARC conference title and an automatic playoff bid.
“This year especially, I have been more of a leader on the team, and I’ve loved being more of a factor in my team's success than previous years,” Butters said. “I have enjoyed helping out some of the younger tight ends, and being able to become closer to (tight ends) coach (Paul) Mugan, who has remained a significant role model in my life.”
The Knights will host an NCAA quarterfinal for the first time in program history on Saturday at Walston-Hoover Stadium in Waverly. The Knights will meet Aurora (11-1) at noon for a trip to the NCAA DIII semifinals.
Visit go-knights.net for live streaming information.
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