Florida Tech Panthers Seek First Win In Four Tries Saturday vs. GSC Power Valdosta State

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ABOVE VIDEO: Coffee With Coach Englehart – Space Coast Daily’s Alan Zlotorzynski sat with Florida Tech Panthers head coach Steve Englehart on Thursday to discuss his Panthers recent loss and the big one on Saturday at home on Saturday vs. Valdosta State. 

Weekly Coffee Chat With Head Coach Steve Englehart, Game Preview

BREVARD COUNTY • MELBOURNE, FLORIDA – Last week Florida Tech set school records in many offensive categories, including total yards in a game but three fumbles in the final 16 minutes of the contest doomed the Panthers at West Alabama in a 45-35 loss and will likely have to win their three remaining games to make the playoffs.

Starting with Saturday night at home vs. Gulf South Conference perennial power Valdosta State, the Panthers have three games to play.

Both teams enter the contest regionally ranked. Valdosta State is No.2 in the Super Region 2 Rankings while Florida Tech is ninth. The Panthers fell out of the national rankings, but with only one loss on their resume, the Blazers are No. 15 in the D2football.com poll and one spot higher at No.14 in AFCA poll.

Even though the two teams have only played three previous times, the rivalry between the two is heating up. That is due in large part to the league and national implications that the contest has held in each of the three previous matchups between the two programs.

Last season, Valdosta State welcomed the Panthers to Title Town late in the regular season for what essentially served as a play-in game for the 2015 Division II Playoffs. The Blazers pulled away late with a 39-21 victory.

The following day the playoff selection show took place and FIT was on the outside looking in when it ended.

This year, in week nine of the 2016 schedule, the matchup holds nearly as much weight, as both the Panthers and the Blazers begin a final push for postseason play as two regionally ranked teams in the Super Region Two rankings.

The Blazers enter Saturday’s matchup fresh off the heels of a convincing 56-27 win over Delta State last Saturday. The Panthers will need their No.1 scoring offense and No.2 scoring defense to be at its best vs. the Blazers.

Valdosta State continues to rack up significant passing yards and currently ranks second in the league with an average of 328.6 yards per game. Individually, Roland Rivers and Adam Robles have split the load evenly.

Both have exceeded 1,000 passing yards and only one yard separates the duo’s average yards per game. Rivers is averaging 177.6 yards per game, and Robles is averaging 176.2 yards per game.

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The Blazers have scored points in 301 straight games, which represents a Division II Football record. The last time the Blazers were shutout was in the 1991 season opener against Central Florida.

VALDOSTA NOTES:

Valdosta State is now in its 35th year of intercollegiate football and owns an overall record of 271 wins, 120 losses and four ties. The program won national championships in 2004, 2007 and 2012.

The Blazers’ mantra this year is “New era. Same tradition.” Except for Jeremy Darveau, the Blazer coaching staff features an entirely new lineup, consisting of four new assistant coaches. The group is led by Kerwin Bell, who was named the program’s new head coach in January, and will serve as the eighth head coach in a line of Valdosta State Football head coaches.

The Blazers have scored points in 301 straight games, which represents a Division II Football record. The last time the Blazers were shutout was in the 1991 season opener against Central Florida.

With their 4-1 GSC record, the Blazers now sit in third place in the league standings. West Alabama currently ranks second with a 5-1 record, and North Alabama continues to hold the top position with an unblemished Gulf South Conference Record.

A breakout performance by Gary Simon on Saturday against the Delta State Statesmen earned the sophomore the title of the Gulf South Conference Special Teams Player of the Week, as announced by the league office on Monday. The sophomore posted 142 return yards and returned a second quarter punt for a touchdown. The punt return marked the first for touchdown return for VSU since Willie Downs’ 62-yard return vs. FIT in 2013.

The month of October has been kind to the Blazers. Valdosta State has won five straight contests, and the last four have come in October. The Blazers are 5-0 on the season in games during which the red and black have scored 30 or more points. Additionally, Valdosta State is also 5-0 in games where they won the turnover battle

Valdosta State By The Numbers

Offensive Leaders

Rushing: Cedric Hollingshed (280 yds, 4.3 avg, 5 TDs)

Passing: Roland Rivers (1243 yds, 177.6 avg/g, 13 TDs)

Receiving: Dallas Baldner (29 rec, 495 yds, 4 TDs)

Defensive Leaders

Tackles: Kenny Moore (S, 28 solo, 10 ast, 4.0 TFL/7 yds)

Sacks: Jamar Simpkins (DL, 4.0 sacks/26 yds)

Interceptions: Raymond Palmer (CB, 4 INTs/104 yds)

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Last season, Valdosta State welcomed the Panthers to Title Town late in the regular season for what essentially served as a play-in game for the 2015 Division II Playoffs. The Blazers pulled away late with a 39-21 victory.

FLORIDA TECH PANTHERS NOTES:

This is the fourth meeting all-time between Florida Tech and Valdosta State. The Blazers have dominated the series, winning all three matchups.

The Panthers are 7-5 all-time against teams from the state of Georgia. FIT owns four wins over shorter and four wins over Shorter, while claiming a 1-2 record against West Georgia and a 0-3 mark against the Blazers.

This game pits the GSC’s No. 1 and No. 7 rushing offenses against each other. The Panthers lead the conference with 198.9 rushing yards per game, compared to 119.1 per contest from VSU.

FIT boasts the top rushing defense in the GSC, so VSU will be looking to air it out on the Panthers. Florida Tech brings an impressive offense of its own into this matchup.

Despite suffering a 45-35 defeat to West Alabama, Florida Tech’s offense put up some eye-popping numbers. Mark Cato broke the school-record for passing yards in the game with 502, while the 643 yards of total offense was the most in the program’s four years. In fact, the Panthers’ offensive output is the second most in the conference this year, outdone only by North Alabama’s 653 yards against North Greenville later that night.

Panthers TE Kenny Johnston, is 5th in Division II in yards per reception at 24.07, leading the conference.

Florida Tech ranks fourth in NCAA Division II in red zone defense, allowing a score just 54.5 percent of the time when its opponent gets inside the 20-yard line. Panther opponents have scored just 12 times in 22 appearances in the red zone.

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ABOVE VIDEO: Following FIT’s 39-21 loss last season at Valdosta State, Panther linebacker Chris Stapleton talks with Space Coast Daily’s Alan Zlotorzynski. Stapleton led the defense with nine tackles, including a TFL that day.

Florida Tech By The Numbers

Offensive Leaders

Rushing: Antwuan Haynes (512 yds, 6.8 avg, 5 TDs)

Passing: Mark Cato (1933 yds, 276.1 avg/g, 16 TDs)

Receiving: Kenny Johnston (28 rec, 674 yds, 6 TDs)

Defensive Leaders

Tackles: Chris Stapleton (LB, 24 solo, 28 ast, 3.0 TFL/9 yds)

Sacks: Adonis Davis (DL, 4.5 sacks/28 yds)

Interceptions: Jo Jackson (DB, 3 INTs/121 yds)

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