Panthers Thrill Fans In Come From Behind Victory

By  //  September 8, 2013

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passion, excitement and unconditional loyalty

GAME WINNING TOUCHDOWN

ABOVE VIDEO: Florida Tech quarterback Sean Ashley scores the game winning TD on a 3-yard run with 1:09 left in the game. The Panthers beat Stetson, 20-13 for their first-ever win. (Rhett Lighthall video)

BREVARD COUNTY • PALM BAY, FLORIDA – It was a typical college football evening in early September as fans for both the hometown Florida Tech Panthers and the Stetson University Hatters filed into Palm Bay Stadium with exuberant anticipation that this historic clash between the two “new” gridiron programs would result in a win for their respective team.

It wasn’t the Swamp, Death Valley or The Big House, but it was standing room only in the 6,000 seat stadium and the atmosphere was charged with the passion, excitement and unconditional loyalty that those elite programs command from their faithful. (SpaceCoastDaily.com image)

It wasn’t the Swamp, Death Valley or The Big House, but it was standing room only in the 6,000 seat stadium and the atmosphere was charged with the passion, excitement and unconditional loyalty that those elite programs command from their faithful. (SpaceCoastDaily.com image)

It wasn’t the Swamp, Death Valley or The Big House, but it was standing room only in the 6,000 seat stadium and the atmosphere was charged with the passion, excitement and unconditional loyalty that those elite programs command from their faithful.

The Hatters, coming off a season opening 31-3 win over Warner University, traveled I-95 South to Palm Bay for the Panthers’ college football debut, which went right down to the wire with Panther quarterback Sean Ashley going into the end zone on a keeper for the winning touchdown with only 1:09 left in the game.

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PANTHERS  RECEIVE THE OPENING KICKOFF

Stetson won the toss, deferred and kicked off. The Panthers’ Davis Fluker was the first player to get a touch and returned the kick 31 yards, one of two returns over 30 yards on the night for the Junior from Miami.

INDIVIDUAL-STATS

FLORIDA TECH INDIVIDUAL STATS: Florida Tech vs. Stetson, Sept. 7, 2013

With Ashley at the helm, the Panthers marched down the field, running at will, until penalties stymied their drive and forced a punt.

After a 61 yard punt by Brion Ashley, the FIT defense, led by linebackers Justin Arcune and Chris Stapleton, was very impressive, forcing a Hatter three and out.

On the ensuing drive, penalties again plagued the Panther offense, and with persistently tough FIT and Stetson defenses, possession went back and forth.

Near the end of the first quarter, the Panthers’ cornerback Manny Abad  picked off a pass from Stetson quarterback Ryan Tentler, but the Panthers were off side and the Hatters kept the ball.

Mike Yonker of Cocoa Beach was back in Brevard as a player with the Stetson Hatters. (Stetson image)

Mike Yonker of Cocoa Beach was back in Brevard as a player with the Stetson Hatters. (Stetson image)

Stetson then marched down to the Panther 15 yard line on a swing pass to fullback Mike Yonker, a redshirt freshman from Cocoa Beach, and then drew first blood on a scoring strike from Tentler (13/22, 98 yds,TD and no int.) to wide receiver Devon Garnett with 33 seconds left in the half. James LaGamma added the extra point to give Stetson a 7-0 lead at the end of the first quarter.

Early in the second quarter, the strong leg of punter/kicker Brion Ashley, who averaged 44 yards a punt, put the Hatters’ back against the wall in their own territory with a 40 yard punt that he dropped out of bounds at the Hatter 3 yard line. Again, excellent defensive pressure, a three-and-out, and a shanked punt gave the Panthers the ball on the Stetson 23 yard line.

FIT looked to be on the verge of a score after Ashley (10/20, 160 yds, TD and 1 int.) connected with fullback Ian Speck for a ten yard gain. Unfortunately, Stetson cornerback Glen Adesoji picked off an Ashley pass in the end zone ending the Panther threat with 9:00 left in the half.

Brion-Ashley-595-1

MAJOR WEAPON: Brion Ashley handled both the punting and placekicking for the Panthers against the Hatters. The 6-4, 205 pound freshman out of Port Charlotte, Fla. (Port Charlotte High School) punted 6 times for a 44 yard average, and scored 8 points – 2 on PATs and 6 on field goals of 40 and 49 yards.

The Hatters then marched steadily into Panther territory until they were stopped on 3rd down at the 25 yard line, forcing a Lagamma field goal and making it 10-0 Hatters with 4:48 left in the half.

On the next series, Ashley completed a huge 34 yard 3rd down pass to Xavier Milton down to the Hatter 35 yard line. However, the Panther threat fizzled out when the Hatters’ Donald Payne broke up a 3rd down pass forcing a 49 yard field goal attempt by Brion Ashley, which just missed wide left.

The ensuing Stetson possession was thwarted by a great hit by Cocoa freshman linebacker Mike Ferguson that broke up what appeared to be a third down completion.

FLORIDA-TECH-DRIVE-STATSCoach Steve Englehardt had been alternating Bobby Vega with Bryan Ashley at QB throughout the first half. With Vega (13/20, 99 yds) in and only 1:13 left in the half, the senior QB from Miami took the Panthers from his own 24 yard line down to the Hatter 36 on 4 consecutive aerial strikes, 3 to Milton and one to fullback Trevor Sand, setting up a 49 yard field goal attempt, which Brion Ashley converted cutting the Panther deficit to 10-3 as time ran out in the first half.

The Panther discipline, determination and tenacity in the second half is a testimonial to Coach Englehardt’s and his staff’s ability to inspire and motivate the ranks. The Panther’s defensive dominance in the second half was the key to their turn-around.

After Stetson went three-and-out on their first possession of the second half, the Panthers’ Milton had a 30 yard punt return, after which Jarvis Jiles, who had 14 carries and 104 yards on the night, ripped off a beautiful 33-yard run putting FIT well into Hatter territory. An unfortunate drop of a third down Ashley pass put Brion Ashley front and center again for a 40-yard kick that split the uprights to make it 10-6 with 11:28 remaining in the third quarter.

Jarvis Giles

Jarvis Giles

After Stetson went three-and-out on their first possession of the second half, the Panthers’ Milton had a 30 yard punt return, after which Jarvis Jiles, who had 14 carries and 104 yards on the night, ripped off a beautiful 33-yard run putting FIT well into Hatter territory. An unfortunate drop of a third down Ashley pass put Brion Ashley front and center again for a 40-yard kick that split the uprights to make it 10-6 with 11:28 remaining in the third quarter.

The teams traded possession throughout most of the rest of the third quarter until about the last 3 minutes when the Panthers started to “run down hill” with a pass from Vega to Sand for 13 yards, followed by a tough Sand run for 15 yards and two Giles rushes for 14 yards. The momentum seemed to be swinging toward FIT until a 3rd down sack left them with a field goal attempt that was missed as the quarter ended.

PANTHER DEFENSE WAS RELENTLESS

The Panther defense continued to be relentless and Stetson again punted, but the Panther offense sputtered and the ensuing punt was returned 45 yards by the Hatters’ Terrance Burt, onto which was tacked a very unusual sideline interference penalty against the Panthers, putting Stetson on the FIT 20 yard line with 11:41 left in the game.

As they had all of the second half, the FIT defense tightened up and forced a 33-yard field goal attempt by Stetson kicker Lagamma, which was good and extended the Hatter lead to 13-6.

Xavier Milton hauls in Florida Tech's first touchdown in program history. (Amanda Stratford image)

Xavier Milton hauls in a Sean Ashley pass to score Florida Tech’s first touchdown in program history. (Amanda Stratford image)

On the next Panther possession and with Ashley at the helm, the offense caught fire. On consecutive reception and run by Sand, which accounted for 23 yards, a 32-yard pass to Aaron George, a touchdown throw to Milton, and the extra point by Brion Ashley, the Panthers knotted it up at 13-13.

Sand had 110 total yards on the night with 3 receptions for 31 yards and 9 carries for 79 yards. Milton had a terrific game with 195 total yards, catching 10 passes for 173 yards and a touchdown and returning 2 punts for 22 yards.

On the ensuing kick off the Hatters experienced one of those things that you never like to see, but certainly does happen with the loss of judgment from the excitement of the moment.

Terrence Burt's early celebration on his stunning kick return drew a flag, negating his touchdown run.

KEY PLAY: Terrence Burt’s early celebration on his stunning kick return drew a flag, negating his touchdown run for the Hatters.

Stetson’s exciting and talented kick returner, Terrence Burt fielded the kick off about 3 yards deep in his own end zone, brought it out up the middle of the field and then veered off to his right where he found a picket fence of blockers. He streaked up the sidelines unmolested but at about the 17 yard line he waved his finger and started to high step in celebration. Without hesitation, the side judge threw the flag, negating the touchdown run and penalizing the Hatters 15 yards back to the Panther 32.

To add to the Stetson misery, on the ensuing series of downs for the Hatters, Justin Arcune and Manny Abad caused and recovered a Hatter fumble, turning the ball over to the Panthers on the 18 yard line.

Maverick Multimedia Editor In Chief Jim Palermo and his wife Kerry have attended college football games all around the country for more than 45 years. The Palermo's give the Florida Tech Gameday experience a two thumbs up as an outstanding college football environment and predicts big things for the Florida Tech football program. (SpaceCoastDaily.com image)

Maverick Multimedia Editor In Chief Jim Palermo and his wife Kerry have attended college football games all around the country for more than 45 years. The Palermo’s give the Florida Tech Gameday experience a two thumbs up as an outstanding college football environment and predict big things for the Florida Tech football program. (SpaceCoastDaily.com image)

From there Sand ate up 37 yards on 3 carries, Ashley hit Milton for eight yards on a crucial 3rd down play and Jiles ripped off a 30 yard run to put the panthers inside the 5 yard line.  Ashley eventually went in on a QB keeper and the other Ashley kicked the extra point to give the Panthers the lead with 1:09 left.

The Panther “D,” like most of the second half, stuffed the Hatter offense on their last gasp deep in their own territory to put an exclamation point on their first ever gridiron victory.

As usual, the “D” line and “O” line got little mention, but they both played very well, especially in light of the fact that this was their debut.

The Panther defense held the Hatters to only 58 yards on the ground and 124 through the air, while putting together a well balanced offensive attack that amassed 259 yards passing and 209 yards rushing.

The SpaceCoastDaily hat is off to Coach Englehardt and staff, the players, the terrific fans and, of course, the FIT leadership for providing our community the opportunity to rally around what looks to be an extraordinary college football program that will only progressively get better with time.

ABOVE VIDEO:Florida Tech head football coach Steve Englehart talks about his team’s performance in defeating Stetson 20-13 in the program’s first-ever game.


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