Florida Tech Panthers Upset By First Year Program University Of West Florida 42-39
By Alan Zlotorzynski, Space Coast Daily // October 2, 2016
Panthers fall to 4-1, 0-1 in Conference
BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA –The Florida Tech Panthers’ first win over a ranked opponent came during FIT’s second season in 2014, a 37-31 win over No. 12 Tarleton State. The win propelled the Panthers to their first winning season.
On Saturday night in Pensacola, Florida in the inaugural Coastal Classic, the University of West Florida Argonauts accomplished a win over a ranked opponent five games into their inaugural season.
Before a very fired-up crowd of nearly 6,600 fans at Blue Wahoos Stadium, The Argos dealt the No. 16 Florida Tech Panthers their first loss of the season with a 42-39 victory.
The Panthers defense, led by Navarre High native Chris Stapleton (22 miles from Pensacola), entered the contest as the No. 2 scoring defense in Division II and through four games, FIT had surrendered just 35 total points.
Saturday night it was the aerial attack, and a Argos offense that produced 458 total yards and 42 points that proved to be the difference.
Florida Tech took their only lead of the game after forcing a fumble on the Argos first play from scrimmage and following a Trevor Sand 8-yard touchdown run, to take a 7-0 lead three minutes into the contest.
But it was all UWF after that. It took the Argonauts 10 plays to go 62 yards and tied the game when Jemari Ford’s snuck in from 2-yards out to tie the game.
The Argos would forge out to a 21-7, outgain Florida Tech 221-150 during that span and possess the ball nearly eight minutes less than did the Panthers offense.
“They did a good job of throwing the ball quick and taking our defensive line out of it,” said FIT head coach Steve Englehart.
“Our defensive backs tried to cover, a few receivers got open and then we missed some tackles that led to big plays.”
UWF quarterback and Valdosta State transfer, Kaleb Nobles passed for 360 yards and two touchdowns and did so by spreading the football around on the usually stout Panthers secondary. Nobles completed passes to nine different players, including six different receivers.
Like Florida Tech seems to do each week, UWF had quite a night of program firsts.
Aside from its first Gulf South Conference win, the Argos defense limited the Gulf South Conference’s top offense and Argos DB Leroy Taylor registered a pick six, the first non-offensive touchdown in UWF history.
Florida Tech has a brief history but has shown during their previous 16 defeats that giving up is never an option, which would prove to be the case on Saturday night. The Panthers entered the contest after arriving three hours later than they wanted to due to a flight delay in Melbourne.
After the first half, the Panthers looked to settle in when Panther kicker Zachary Leatherman hit a 31-yard field goal for FIT, closing the gap to 21-10. Senior linebacker Chris Stapleton gave his team a chance to cut the lead to four after he picked off an Argonauts pass in the end zone and returned it to West Florida’s 12-yard line.
Panthers junior quarterback Mark Cato found sophomore wide receiver Jaaron Barrett for a 13-yard touchdown pass. Barrett made an athletic catch getting just one foot in while also taking a hard hit on the play.
The play cut the deficit to 21-17 with a little under three minutes to play in the third.
UWF would answer immediately. Argos signal caller Kaleb Nobles kept the ball and scored from 6-yards out with less than a minute to play in the third.
The fourth quarter would produce a wild finish.
At the start of the final period Mark Cato hooked up with his favorite target tight end Kenny Johnston on a 26-yard touchdown pass. Unfortunately for FIT, UWF would answer again.
Mark Cato threw an interception that was returned by UWF 47 yards which set up a two-yard TD run by Tim Bellinger to give UWF an 11-point lead at 35-24.
UWF would strike again, as quarterback Kaleb Nobles connected with Caleb Robinson for a 75-yard touchdown, extending the UWF lead to 42-24.
Another interception by UWF looked like the proverbial dagger. However, the Argos fumbled ball shortly after that set up FIT sophomore Antwaun Haynes with a 7-yard touchdown run. FIT would convert a two-point conversion, the Panthers cut the lead to 42-32
Mark Cato would find Johnston again on an 80-yard touchdown to cut the lead to three points. The onside kick attempt failed but the Panthers defense held, that’s the good news—the bad news was the Florida Tech’s offense got the ball back with under 30 seconds to play and no time outs.
Needing at least 60 yards, Florida Tech could not pull off the miracle and get close enough to try to tie the game and as the clock hit zero.
Mark Cato was 22 of 40 for 307 yards and TE Kenny Johnston continues to live up to his preseason honors, as he had nine catches for 187 yards. Haynes led the ground attack with 77 rushing yards.
The Panthers converted seven of 18 third down conversions and had a five-minute advantage in time of possession.
Florida Tech’s turnovers, (3) and penalties were a big reason why the team dropped its first contest of the season. The Panthers committed 15-penalties for 118 yards.
Florida Tech returns home next week to host the University of North Alabama. The Panthers are 0-3 against the Lions. Ranked 18th and now 3-0 in GSC play, UNA is coming off an upset win over the No. 3 West Georgia, 24-23 in a key Gulf South Conference matchup on Saturday.
— NCAA Division II (@NCAADII) October 2, 2016
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