Florida Tech Panthers Take No Chances, Start 2016 Season With 42-28 Win At Newberry

By  //  September 4, 2016

Panthers earn first ever win over Wolves

Florida Tech Tight End Kenny Johnston celebrates his 51 yard touchdown reception from QB Mark Cato on the Panthers first drive of the 2016 season. (FIT Image)

NEWBERRY, SOUTH CAROLINA– After suffering losses to Newberry in 2013 and 2015, Florida Tech got some payback Saturday night, opening the 2016 season with a 42-28 victory over the Wolves.

It was the offense that got it done for much of the game, scoring 35 points in the first three quarters to keep pace with a game Newberry squad. However, it was the defense that stepped up late, keeping the Wolves off of the board in the fourth quarter and coming up with numerous timely takeaways.

“The defense was able to create turnovers, that’s part of our mission on defense to get the ball back,” said head coach Steve Englehart.

“I would like them to play a little stingier and not give up so many yards but we were able to turn Newberry over quite a bit.”

The Panthers got on the board early as Mark Cato hooked up with a wide-open Kenny Johnston running down the seam for a 51-yard touchdown during the Panthers’ first drive. After a Zachary Leatherman PAT, Florida Tech was up 7-0 midway through the first quarter.

Newberry bounced back to start the second quarter, tying the game with a 38-yard strike from Raleigh Yeldell to Cole Watson. However, minutes later Cato lofted a screen pass to newcomer Romell Gurrier, who turned on the jets and glided into the end zone 65 yards later.

After another Wolves touchdown pass to bring the score to 14-13, Cato found Terrance Bynum in the back of the end zone from 34 yards out to extend the lead with just over a minute left in the half.

Steve Englehart
Steve Englehart

Just when it seemed that FIT had seized momentum, the Wolves screamed down the field in 36 seconds for a touchdown and tied the game with a successful two-point conversion. At the half, the Panthers and Newberry were deadlocked at 21 apiece.

While the first half featured a lot of offense, the second half started out showcasing the defensive side of the ball. On the first drive of the half, Gurrier lost control of a Cato pass and bobbled it right into the hands of Wolves defensive lineman Jimmy Holmes. However, the drive ended shortly thereafter when Manny Abad picked off Yeldell in the end zone.

The Panthers drove right down the field but had the drive come to a sudden stop when Cato was intercepted in the end zone on a broken play. The turnover fun wasn’t over, however, as Billy Sturgis tipped a Yeldell pass to himself and rumbled to the 15-yard line.

FIT took advantage as Cato and Johnston atoned on the very next play for a touchdown to give the Panthers a 28-21 lead.

The Panthers forced a fumble on the ensuing kickoff, once again snagging outstanding field position on the Jace Browne recovery. After converting on fourth down to keep the drive alive, Leatherman split the uprights on a 20-yard field goal, pushing the FIT lead to 31-21.

Newberry stopped the bleeding on the next drive as Yeldell bulleted a pass to Markell Castle for a 72-yard touchdown. The Panthers used a steady dose of Antwuan Haynes on the next drive, setting up a 40-yard field goal from Leatherman to extend the lead to 34-28 late in the third quarter.

The Panthers gave themselves some insurance late in the fourth quarter, driving 54 yards on a steady diet of rushes that was capped by a Cato touchdown dive from a yard out. After Cato and Wayne Saunders II hooked up for the two-point conversion, the FIT lead was 42-28 with 3:59 to play.

Senior QB Mark Cato was 7-12 for 177 yards and two touchdowns in the first half vs. Newberry

The Wolves drove down inside the 10 but Andrew Adair iced the game with a pick in the end zone. The interception gave FIT its sixth turnover of the game, five coming in the second half.

“Overall we came on the road against a Newberry team that we hadn’t beaten and got the win,” said Englehart. “We’re off to the right start. Now we have to keep working to get better and get ready for Mississippi College next week.”

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Full game stats were not immediately available at the end of the game. The Panthers return to action on Saturday, Sept. 10, opening up the home and conference schedules against Mississippi College at 7 p.m. ET. Jerry Durney and Paul Van Scott will have the Call from Florida Tech Panther Stadium on 89.5 WFIT and WFIT.org.

Space Coast Daily will update this story with stats when availabale.