The East Butler Tigers football season officially came to an end after a 60-24 defeat at the hands of Exeter-Milligan/Friend in the first round of the D-2 playoffs.
The Tigers kept up with the Timberwolves during the first quarter trailing only 14-12 but were not able to keep up as the game progressed.
"I thought our players played with great energy and played hard throughout the game," said head coach Shawn Biltoft in comments sent to the Banner-Press. "We were able to score in the first half of the game and put pressure on EMF but were not able to sustain the level needed to be successful for an entire game. Their size wore our team down in the second half."
The loss caps a 3-6 season for East Butler. The Tigers won a state championship in the previous season, but after the departure of a starting quarterback, had to find ways to rebuild this season.
The Tigers started out with a three-game losing streak but turned it around winning three of the last five to close out the regular season.
"Our team worked to achieve their goals for the year," Biltoft said. "Although we didn't reach all of our goals, we did improve from the beginning of the season. It was rewarding to see the improvement in confidence in our players from the beginning of the year to the end. They demonstrated a willingness and drive that allows a team to win games."
East Butler will lose two seniors for next year, Cody Heise and Cristian Hofpar.
Heise had two receptions for 16 yards and recorded 16 tackles on the season. Hofpar rushed the ball 10 times for 34 yards and had 13 receptions for 155 yards and a touchdown. He also tallied 111 kick return yards, 17 tackles and a fumble recovery.
"They both worked extremely hard this year and contributed on the field and as leaders," Biltoft said. "I appreciate their time and effort into making our team better and wish them well in their future plans."
Junior Jaden Rhynalds took over as the starting quarterback this season. He proved to be a threat through the air and on the ground. He completed 56 of 133 pass attempts for 671 yards and eight touchdowns while also rushing for 937 yards on 148 carriers and 17 touchdowns.
Rhynalds also was a force on defense and special teams. He recorded 277 kick return yards and 119 punt return yards. He totaled 130 tackles, three interceptions and a fumble recovery on the season.
"Jaden is a special player that has stepped into the role of quarterback this year and has performed very well," Biltoft said. "He is able to make plays both running and passing the ball."
With the Tigers only losing two players, the focus is already on continuing to build for next season and get back into the playoffs.
"I think all teams constantly work to find ways to get better, our team is no different," Biltoft said. "There were many young players that played this year and look forward to the challenges of the 2019 season."
Juniors that return for East Butler include Rhynalds, Wade Wright, Nolan Makovicka, Dalton Haase and Austin Pierce.
East Butler goes on the road to start the 2019 season to face West Point Guardian Angels Central Catholic.
Peter Huguenin is a sports reporter for the Banner-Press. Reach him via email at DVDsports@lee.net