Panthers Knock Off No. 19 Argonauts, 30-28
PENSACOLA, Fla. – Florida Tech (6-2, 3-2 GSC) completed the largest comeback in program history Saturday night at Blue Wahoos Stadium, scoring 27-unanswered points and erasing an 18-point deficit to upset No. 19 West Florida (5-3, 3-2 GSC), 30-28, and win the Coastal Classic Trophy for the first time in the rivalry’s three-year history.
“It feels good to have the trophy back at home,” said head coach Steve Englehart. “We’ve kind of given the game away the last two years when we maybe had the better team so it was good this year, when we had the better team again, to come away with the win.
“I thought we played pretty good and really overcame a lot of obstacles to win this one.”
The game, which was delayed one hour and 35 minutes due to weather, did not start out well for Florida Tech. Facing a 3rd-and-7 on their first possession, Trent Chmelik was picked off by UWF’s David Richardson, who returned it 17 yards for the opening score.
The Panthers responded with a 16-play, 83-yard drive that ended with a 20-yard kick by Trey Schaneville, the first of three field goals on the day for the freshman.
Three plays later, the Argonauts answered with a 72-yard touchdown pass from Sam Vaughn to Ishmel Morrow and grabbed a 14-3 lead with 3:31 left in the first quarter.
A 61-yard punt return by Antoine Griffin extended UWF’s advantage to 21-3 with 12:08 to go in the second quarter.
When it looked as though the game was slipping away from the Panthers, the defense came up with a big play. With the Argos backed up on their own five yard-line, Richard Leveille broke through the protection, strip-sacked Vaughn and returned the fumble five yards for his second defensive touchdown of the season.
Trailing 21-10 at halftime, the Florida Tech offense came out of the locker room rejuvenated, scoring points on four of its first six possessions of the second half.
After UWF missed a field goal on its opening possession of the third quarter, Chmelik connected with GSC-leading receiver, Romell Guerrier, for a 10-yard score.
Consecutive made field goals by Schaneville, from 33 and 32 yards out, handed Florida Tech its first lead of the game, 23-21, with 11:23 remaining in the fourth.
After forcing UWF into a 3-and-out, the Panthers quickly built their lead to a two-possession game when Chmelik found Guerrier for a season-high 79-yard touchdown to make the score 30-21 with 5:39 left.
Kevin Grant’s 16-yard touchdown from Vaughn cut its deficit to two with just over a minute left.
Following Grant’s touchdown, UWF’s Tate Lehtio recovered the ensuing on-side kick and the Argos had the ball with a chance to win the game late. However, the defense came up big again, stripping Vaughn on the first play of the potential game-winning drive and jumping on it to win back possession.
The 18-point comeback victory is the largest in program history for Florida Tech.
Despite the slow start, Englehart was confident the Panthers would get it going offensively against UWF.
“We gave them (UWF) three big plays, and were down by a lot early in the game, but we knew that those were all they really got,” Englehart stated. “As long as we continued to chip away, kick field goals and get a few touchdowns that we could come back for the win.
“Obviously it feels good to win the game the way we did, because of our resilience as a team.”
Helping stage the comeback for Florida Tech was the impressive play of the defense, which limited UWF to just 242 yards of total offense and 10 first downs, and forced five turnovers. Florida Tech concluded the game with 452 yards of offense in the win, including 256 yards passing and 196 yards on the ground.
The Panthers outgained the Argonauts 284-117 in the second half.
“The defensive performance was unbelievable,” Englehart added. “They came out in the second half and really just shut them (UWF) down. Coach Minter made some great adjustments at halftime, and we came out and completely shut them down. They really only got that one big play on us late in the game after that.
“The five turnovers were huge for us. The defense played with great energy and, once again, did everything they could to help win the game.”
Chmelik completed 17-of-30 passes for 256 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
Guerrier recorded a game-high six receptions for 116 yards and two touchdowns, his third multi-score game of the season. Brian Spurgeon notched three catches for 61 yards.
J.T. Hassell led Florida Tech with five tackles, including one for loss. Jimmy Hinel picked up four tackles while Dezmond Morgan made four tackles and took an interception 24 yards in the game. Peoples and Leveille each recorded a sack and forced a fumble. Tyrone Cromwell, Morgan and Malachi Timberlake all intercepted Vaughn in the victory.
The Florida Tech football team is back on the road next Saturday, Oct. 27, for a showdown with West Alabama in Livingston, Ala. Kickoff is set for 4 p.m. ET at Tiger Stadium.
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