Senior wide-out hauls in 41-yard Hail Mary pass as time expires
ROME, Ga. (Football) – Things looked pretty bleak for Florida Tech after Shorter’s Eric Dodson scored on a 34-yard rush to take a 30-28 lead with 25 seconds remaining in the game. Xavier Milton had other plans, though, as the senior wide receiver was able to get behind the Hawks’ secondary and bring down the 41-yard Hail Mary heave to give the Panthers an improbable 34-30 victory.
“It wasn’t pretty but any time you can come on the road and get a victory it builds confidence,” said head coach Steve Englehart. “I don’t care who it is, when you come on the road and get a win like that I think it’s big. Shorter is a much better team than their record would indicate. We saw them against West Texas A&M when we were in Dallas and they probably should have won that game. To be honest, they should have won a lot of games. For us to get our sixth win and guarantee our first winning team, obviously that’s special.”
While the Panther defense held the Shorter triple option attack at bay early on, the FIT offense was unable to get anything going. The Hawks controlled the ball for nearly the entire first quarter, garnering just over 11 minutes of time of possession.
Shorter was able to move the ball down the field, recording 101 rushing yards and 123 yards all together in the first quarter, but the Panthers would keep the Hawks off the board.
Following a Shorter field goal, the Panthers seemed to be putting together their first sustained drive of the game but a Xavier Milton fumble at the Shorter 34 would bring the drive to a screeching halt. The Hawks would capitalize, punching the ball in from three yards out late in the second quarter to take a 10-0 lead into halftime. The Panthers were held scoreless in the first half for the first time all season.
On the first drive of the third quarter, Shorter safety Jordan Shaw, the Gulf South Conference’s leader in tackles and interceptions, was ejected for targeting. The Panthers didn’t take long to get on the board with Shaw out of the equation, as Gary Holmes broke free for an 18-yard scoring romp.
A Manny Abad interception on Shorter’s next drive would give FIT the ball right back, but the Panthers would be unable to capitalize. However, FIT would take its first lead on its very next drive as Mark Cato lofted a pass beautifully into the hands of a fading Milton for a three-yard touchdown connection.
Dodson would strike right back for Shorter but Milton would answer with a 42-yard scoring reception after the Hawks bit on a double-move. Bruce Clark would find pay dirt from 26 yards out to reclaim the lead for Shorter at 24-21. The Panthers thought they had the winning score when Cato hit Gabe Hughes in the back of the end zone and the tight end was able to get a foot down.
FIT seemed to be in good shape with only 1:48 remaining in the game, facing a team that primarily runs the ball but the dynamic Dodson was able to break the Panther defense, giving Milton the opportunity for his late game heroics.
Milton may have had his best game in what has been a storied career at FIT, catching 10 passes for 168 yards and three touchdowns. Cato completed 18 of his 31 passes, totaling 285 yards and four scoring passes. Trevor Sand came up just short of another 100-yard game, gaining 96 yards on 21 carries.
J.J. Sanders was all over the field, tallying 15 tackles, including eight solo stops and 2.5 tackles for a loss. Chris Stapleton was also a stalwart for the FIT defense, tallying 13 tackles of his own and a half tackle for a loss. Leo Alba recorded the only forced fumble for the Panthers, while Abad garnered the lone FIT turnover with his interception.
Aki Coles led the Hawks offense with 116 rushing yards on 16 carries. Dodson chipped in 103 yards and a pair of scores of his own on the ground, while also gaining 98 yards and a touchdown through the air. Zach Butts was the leading tackler for the Hawks, collecting 14 total stops.
FIT will return to the Peach State in one week for another GSC road showdown. The Panthers will battle West Georgia in Carollton, Georgia with kickoff scheduled for 2 p.m. ET. The game will be carried live on ESPN3 and the WatchESPN app.
A live radio broadcast will be available on the new Official Radio Partner of the Panthers, WFIT 89.5 FM, with Jerry Durney and Paul Van Scott calling the game. The feed will also be available by clicking on the ‘Listen Live’ button in the top left hand corner at WFIT.org and through the free TuneIn Radio app. A link to live stats will be available at FloridaTechSports.com.
Tickets remain for FIT’s final remaining home game on Saturday, Nov. 15 at 6 p.m. ET against Valdosta State. Tickets are available by visiting FloridaTechSports.com, calling 321-674-6228 or stopping by the Clemente Center Ticket Office Monday-Friday from 10 a.m.-2 p.m.