GAME PREVIEW: Florida Tech Panthers Can Make Conference Statement With Road Win Over West Alabama
By Alan Zlotorzynski, Space Coast Daily // October 22, 2016
Game Set for 3 p.m.
ABOVE VIDEO: Coffee with coach Steve Englehart on Thursday as he discusses Saturday’s upcoming game
BREVARD COUNTY • MELBOURNE, FLORIDA – Following a loss and unexpected week off due to Hurricane Matthew, the Florida Tech Panthers got back to their winning ways last Saturday with a 48-14 victory over the SIAC’s Fort Valley State.
FIT controlled the game from the outset, nearly returning the opening kickoff for a touchdown, just to punch it in a few plays later. Behind redshirt junior quarterback Mark Cato, the Panthers led 41-7 at halftime and never looked back.
Cato accounted for five of the Panthers’ touchdowns in the contest and didn’t play a snap in the fourth quarter as head coach Steve Englehart was able to play all of his dressed signal callers.
Backup quarterback and former Melbourne Central Catholic QB Brendan Ziarno filled in for two plays in the second quarter and tossed a 10-yard slant pass to Wayne Saunders who promptly turned it into a 70-yard touchdown scamper.
The competition gets much tougher for the Panthers from this point on as this week they travel to Livingston, Alabama to play the West Alabama Tigers.
In what was the Gulf Coast Conference game of the week last Saturday, West Alabama went on the road to West Georgia and soundly defeated last year’s conference and region champions, 31-7.
UWG was also ranked 24th in D2 football before last week’s contest but fell out of the poll after being defeated at home.
ABOVE VIDEO: Florida Tech TE Kenny Johnston will have to be a catalyst for is team Saturday to get a win One of the top tight ends in D2 football, Johnston leads the GSC with 24.9 yards per catch and is second with five TD receptions this season.
UWA trailed 7-3 at halftime, but were dominant in the second half due in large part to a pair of special teams touchdowns.
Donta Armstrong returned a punt for a TD, and on the ensuing kickoff, the Tigers forced a fumble and returned it for a score. UWG offense was held to 206 total yards and did not score any points.
The Panthers currently hold a two game winning streak over UWA and the last time they played in Livingston left with a win following a memorable ending. It was a game Panthers head coach Steve Englehart said, “Placed his team on the map in the Gulf south conference.”
Florida Tech trailed 26-20 with 4:58 to play in the game but took the lead, 27-26 when Panthers running back Gary Holmes dashed 35 yards for what appeared to be the game winning touchdown
However, West Alabama drove 71-yards in eight plays to go ahead and following a failed two-point conversion, led 32-27.
Then redshirt freshman quarterback Mark Cato took over with 1:35 to play. Cato was only 3-9 for 23 yards on the ensuing drive but he would account for 56 total yards of offense when the Panthers needed it most.
Following a rush of 20 yards during the final drive, Cato was hit late out of bounds picking up 15 extra yards. The ball was placed at the 18-yard line with 30 seconds to play.
Four plays later and with only two ticks left on the clock, Cato found his favorite target Gabe Hughes in the back of the end zone for the game winning touchdown.
Hughes only got one foot in bounds but in college football it’s all that’s required and FIT escaped with a one point 33-32 win.
Last season the Panthers used an extremely balanced attack on offense to earn their second straight win over the Tigers.
During the Panthers 24-13 win on Babcock street, FIT produced a 300-yard passer in Mark Cato, a 100-yard rusher in Trevor Sand and tight end Gabe Hughes had two catches for 101 receiving yards.
A rare offensive hat trick at any level of football.
The Panthers enter this week’s contest with the number one ranked offense and defense in the Gulf South Conference in terms of yards gained and allowed.
#19 Florida Tech Panthers (5-1, 2-1 Gulf South) at West Alabama Tigers (4-3, 4-1 Gulf South)
Saturday, October 22 | 2:00 p.m. CT
Tiger Stadium | Livingston, Ala.
Series Record: Florida Tech leads 2-1
Last Meeting: @FIT 24, UWA 13 (2015)
Florida Tech’s Last Game: Defeated Fort Valley State, 48-14
West Alabama’s Last Game: Defeated West Georgia, 31-7
West Alabama will head back to Livingston on a high after a 31-7 win over West Georgia last weekend. Austin Grammer again led the offensive attack for the Tigers and has thrown for 11 TDs in the last three games, all of which were UWA wins.
The defense for West Alabama was staunch in the game, not allowing a single point and yielding just 206 yards of total offense from UWG.
Florida Tech will look to test the UWA defense, as the Panthers enter the game with the top offense in the league in total yards, with 493 yards in each contest. The Panthers average an astounding 6.8 yards per play and scored seven touchdowns in last week’s win.
Florida Tech By The Numbers
Rushing: Antwuan Haynes (386 yds, 7.1 avg, 4 TDs)
Passing: Mark Cato (1453 yds, 242.2 avg/g, 13 TDs)
Receiving: Kenny Johnston (22 rec, 519 yds, 5 TDs)
Tackles: Chris Stapleton (LB, 20 solo, 18 ast, 3.0 TFL/9 yds)
Sacks: Adonis Davis (DL, 4.0 sacks/26 yds)
Interceptions: Jo Jackson (DB, 3 INTs/121 yds)
West Alabama By The Numbers
Rushing: Lakenderic Thomas (562 yds, 5.1 avg, 2 TDs)
Passing: Austin Grammer (1588 yds, 264.7 avg/g, 10 TDs)
Receiving: Donta Armstrong (47 rec, 481 yds, 3 TDs)
Tackles: Mike Williams (LB, 18 solo, 21 ast, 7.0 TFL/21 yards)
Sacks: Darius Ellis (DB, 7.0 sacks/62 yds)
Interceptions: Dee Virgin (DB, 3 INTs/32 yds)
The Panthers will return home next week to face another tough GSC foe in Valdosta State.
Last season the Panthers traveled to South Georgia with a chance to clinch a playoff spot but fell to the three time D2 national champions. Ultimately, FIT was not named as an at large team the following day and missed the playoffs.
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