Panthers Edge Out Bulldogs for Pivotal Road Victory
Blocked PAT seals Florida Tech’s
road win over Wingate, 26-23
WINGATE, N.C. – The Florida Tech football team (4-1) picked up a hard-fought and pivotal regional win Saturday as the Panthers handed the Wingate Bulldogs (2-3) a 26-23 defeat at Irwin Belk Stadium.
“It was a heck of a game,” said Head Coach Steve Englehart. “I’m proud of our guys. Proud of how they played, especially at the end of the game. We’re 4-1 in September and 3-0 in non-conference regional play, which is huge. It’ll help us when it comes to playoff time.”
The first quarter went by with neither team able to develop much momentum offensively.
It was a defensive play in the second quarter that finally got the ball rolling for the Panthers. With 10:46 left before halftime, John McClureintercepted a pass from Wingate quarterback Shaw Crocker in the Bulldogs’ end and returned it 13 yards to set up the Florida Tech offense on the Wingate 15-yard line.
On the very next play, Trent Chmelik found Max Linder wide open in the middle of the field for the easy touchdown.
WU struck back minutes later as Nijere Peoples scored on a 23-yard run to tie the game at 7-7, with 7:51 to go until halftime.
The Bulldogs went into the halftime break leading 10-7 after McLean Robertson knocked in a 20-yard field goal with 19 seconds to go in the second quarter.
Similar to the first quarter, both teams were unable to build much momentum and punted during the initial six drives of the third quarter.
Late in the third quarter, Romell Guerrier turned a short completion from Chmelik into a 69-yard touchdown to give Florida Tech a 14-10 edge with 1:43 left in the third.
“Romell just made play after play for us today,” said Englehart. “He turned a simple play that should have been a six or seven-yard gain and he spun back and outran everyone up the sideline for the touchdown. That play really changed the game for us.”
However, Wingate again answered the Panthers’ score with a touchdown run by Peoples, this one from two yards out, to hand the Bulldogs a 17-14 lead with no time left in the third quarter.
Florida Tech responded on its next drive. Chmelik connected with Brian Spurgeon, Jr. for a 60-yard catch-and-run and then found Guerrier in the end zone for the score to give the Panthers a 21-17 lead with 14:16 remaining.
A field goal by Trey Schaneville pushed the Crimson & Gray’s lead to seven points with 5:47 to go.
Needing a touchdown to keep their chances alive, Wingate did just that. The Bulldogs drove 75 yards down the field in 10 plays and brought their deficit to one point, 24-23, on a 16-yard touchdown from Crocker to J.T. Stokes.
With 1:05 left on the clock, the Bulldogs were a PAT away from tying the game up and possibly sending it to overtime on their home field. However, Tyrone Cromwell broke around the right side of the line and got a paw on Robertson’s kick. McClure collected the bouncing ball and ran it back, untouched, to get Florida Tech a three-point lead.
Following a close call on the ensuing onside kick by Wingate, the Panthers were able to run out the remainder of the clock and walk away with an important regional victory.
Wingate slightly outgained Florida Tech in the game, 390-383. The Bulldogs finished with more rushing yards, 171-110, much of which came from Peoples who ended with 133 yards on 23 carries.
Chmelik completed 15-of-26 passes for a career-high 273 yards a three touchdowns, while also rushing seven times for 42 yards. It’s the second game in a row that the junior threw for three touchdowns.
It’s also the second week in a row that Chmelik and Guerrier have connected for two touchdowns in a game. Guerrier ended today with five receptions for 130 yards. Spurgeon finished with two catches for 77 yards, while Max Linder recorded 17 yards and a touchdown on two receptions.
Antwuan Haynes ran 15 times for 52 yards and caught one pass for 10 yards. The senior running back is now only 34 yards away from reaching the 3,000-yard milestone.
The Florida Tech offensive line also had a terrific game. The Panthers’ line held a Wingate defense, which ranked in the top five nationally in tackles for loss (3rd) and sacks (5th) entering Saturday’s game, to just four tackles for loss and no sacks.
The Florida Tech defense was just as impressive, paying frequent visits to the Bulldog’s quarterback in the backfield. The unit finished with 14 tackles for loss, including nine sacks, five quarterback hurries, one interception, four pass breakups, and a blocked kick.
“We were able to put a lot of pressure on their quarterback, Crocker, today,” Englehart stated. “We really got to him quite a bit. The pressure wasn’t just coming from the defensive line but also blitzing linebackers. It’s one of our goals every week to get this sort of pressure on the other team’s offense.”
Adonis Davis helped lead the defensive effort, finishing with a team-high 11 tackles, one sack, and one quarterback hurry. The redshirt senior’s sack in the third quarter was the 19th of his career and made him the program’s all-time leader in the category, breaking the tie between Davis and Panther great J.J. Sanders.
J.T. Hassell probably had the best game of any Florida Tech defender. The linebacker was all over the field in the first half ending with eight tackles and 3.5 sacks, the most sacks in a single half, and in a single game, in program history. The senior would finish up with nine tackles for the game and a school-record four sacks.
McClure also had himself a game for the Panthers, going for seven tackles, one interception, one pass breakup, and a defensive PAT. Evan Thompson, Marquise Lewis, and Dezmond Morgan recorded six tackles apiece, while Jimmy Hinel ended with five tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and one sack. Sherron Chester and Thierry LaFortune also ended with five tackles.
Florida Tech returns to Gulf South Conference action next Saturday, Oct. 6, when the Panthers host Mississippi College at 7 p.m. ET at Panther Stadium. The game is Florida Tech’s Breast Cancer Awareness game and all fans are encouraged to wear Pink to show your support.
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