GAME PREVIEW: Panthers Football Program Looking For Berth Day Special vs. Delta State

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Coffee With Coach STEVE Englehart

ABOVE VIDEO: The Thursday, November 10 edition of “Coffee With Coach” had Florida Tech Panthers Steve Englehart talk about last week’s big win – and this week’s opponent.


BREVARD COUNTY • MELBOURNE, FLORIDA – The Florida Tech Panthers football program has experienced many firsts since kicking off 43 games ago in its inaugural season.

The program won its first-ever game on Sept. 7, 2013, a hard fought 20-13 over Division I FCS foe Stetson. Since then, the Panthers have gone 25-18 and along with many joyous firsts, the program has experienced some heartbreaking setbacks.

Last year, with a chance to win the Gulf South Conference and reach the playoffs, both program firsts, the team was soundly defeated in its final game at Valdosta State and consequently missed out on both.

With a win over the visiting Statesmen from Delta State at home on Saturday afternoon, the Panthers can erase the memories from that dreary day in South Georgia last November, and instead will experience another joyous first – a berth in the 28-team College Football D2 playoff field.

The task won’t be easy and don’t let the opponents record fool you.

The Delta Statesman are 4-5, but will bring one of the more potent offenses in the Gulf South Conference to Melbourne when they kickoff at 2 p.m. on Saturday in the final regular season tilt for both teams.

Behind conference champ North Alabama and Florida Tech, Delta State averages nearly 40-points per game and has the third ranked offense in the GSC.

They are led by Harlan Hill Trophy candidate (D2 Heisman Trophy equivalent) running back Chris Robinson.

Robinson leads the Gulf South Conference with 1,379 all-purpose yards, averaging 153.2 ypg with 894 yards rushing and 485 receiving yards. He ranks first in all of NCAA Division II in scoring with 16 points per game and leads the GSC and NCAA DII with 24 total touchdowns (19 rushing/5 receiving).

At quarterback the Statesman are led by Senior Tyler Sullivan.

Sullivan has 14 touchdowns on the year and is 93-yards away from 2,000 passing yards.

Earlier this week, Sullivan was named one of 12 finalists for the 2016 William V. Campbell Trophy, which recognizes individuals who are the absolute best football scholar-athlete in the nation.

While Delta State can score, they also give up a lot of points. They allow 39-points per game and 427 yards per contest. They also allow opposing offenses to convert nearly 38 percent on third down, all ranking as second worst in the GSC.

ABOVE VIDEO: Florida Tech seniors Manny Abad and Chris Stapleton talk with Alan Zlotorzynski from Space Coast Daily about last weeks game and what a win Saturday could mean. 

Abad’s Dozen

Saturday is also senior day at Panthers stadium. Twenty-eight players will be honored before the game, as the team and fans say goodbye to many of the young men who have experienced most of the joyous and heartbreaking firsts for a new program.

Head coach Steve Englehart said on Thursday morning in “Coffee with Coach” with yours truly, “I will be disappointed if the stands aren’t packed for the kids.”

“These kids have done so much more than just show up for a few on Saturday and play football. They have been active in the community and have worked so hard to get to this point and deserve to have the backing of a community they supported with all of their heart for the past four years.”

Senior Manny Abad said,” Please come out Saturday and show us some support us, we intend to put on a show.”

Fellow defensive stalwart and captain Chris Stapleton reiterated, “We are entertainers, we’re here to please you guys and we like to put on a show, so please come out, Saturday, there will definitely be a show.”

Abad will have a large contingent of his family on hand.

Senior Manny Abad said,” Please come out Saturday and show us some support us, we intend to put on a show.”

Coach Englehart told the seniors last week before the UWG game that each player would be allowed to have a few members of his family accompany them onto the field during pre-game ceremonies this week.

Coach stressed that in the interest of time and space, there could be no more a maximum of two maybe three family members that could be introduced with the player. This concerned Abad

Abad approached Englehart and expressed that his family was bigger than most and he needed special permission for more than three and when coach said he understood Manny’s problem and told him that he could have four no more than five family members walk with him, Abad’s worried look did not dissipate.

“How many do you need Manny” coach asked – “12 coach” was Abad’s reply.

Coach balked then thought about it and told Manny that if he could return an interception for a touchdown last week he could have as many family members as he wanted to walk with him during the pregame ceremony.

Last Saturday on West Georgia’s third possession of the game and leading 7-0, Wolves quarterback Willie Candler dropped back to pass on first and ten from his own 24-yard line. Abad, as he has done so many times in his career at FIT, read the play perfectly and jumped the route to pick off the ball.

Abad ran the short distance into the end zone to pull the Panthers within an extra point of tying the road contest. Florida Tech would outscore UWG 38-14 from that point on and win the game 45-21.

This Saturday, Abad will be flanked by a dozen of his closest family members as No.1 is introduced for the final time at Panthers stadium during the regular season.

ABOVE VIDEO: Highlights from a recent Delta State contest. Take notice of No.2, Chris Robinson and his nose for the endzone.

Stats, Facts & Game Notes for Saturday’s contest:

Delta State Statesmen (4-5, 3-4 Gulf South)

at Florida Tech Panthers (7-2, 4-2 Gulf South)

Saturday, November 12 | 2:00 p.m. ET

Florida Tech Panther Stadium | Melbourne, Fla.

Delta State’s Last Game: Lost to North Alabama, 49-19

Florida Tech’s Last Game: Defeated West Georgia, 45-21

NOTE: This matchup is the GSC’s Game of the Week and can be streamed live on the Watch ESPN App.

Delta State and Florida Tech are meeting for the fourth time in the series, with the Statesmen owning a 2-1 edge in the series. FIT’s lone win came last year on Oct. 3, 2015 at Parker Field-McCool Stadium in a 41-37 victory. In that contest the Panthers rushed for 243 yards and had a 100-yard kickoff return by Gary Holmes.

DSU is 1-0 in Melbourne, claiming a 58-20 victory on a Thursday night, Oct. 2, 2014 at Panther Stadium.

Harlan Hill Trophy candidate Chris Robinson
Harlan Hill Trophy candidate Chris Robinson. (Delta State image)

Delta State Notes:

Junior running back Chris Robinson is making a case that he should be considered one of the leading candidates for the Harlon Hill Trophy, presented annually to NCAA Division II Player of the Year. The Gulf Coast (Miss.) CC transfer is the nation’s leading scorer, averaging 16.0 points per game. He leads NCAA Division II in touchdowns (24) and rushing touchdowns (19) while pacing the GSC in rushing (894 yards) and yards per game (99.3).

Robinson is a dual-threat target for opposing defenses. He’s caught 30 passes for 485 yards and five scores.

Todd Cooley will be entering his fourth season as head coach of the Delta State University Statesman football program. Cooley became the 19th coach in program history on Friday, Jan. 25, 2012. In his three seasons as head coach of the Statesmen, Cooley is 26-15 overall and 15-12 against the Gulf South Conference.

Delta State is 18-2 under head coach Todd Cooley when winning the turnover battle 21-0 under head coach Todd Cooley when leading at half-time. The Statesmen are 5-10 when trailing and 0-2 when tied at the half.

Delta State by The Numbers

Offensive Leaders

Rushing: Chris Robinson (894 yds., 5.2 avg, 19 TDs)

Passing: Tyler Sullivan (1925 yds, 213.9 avg/g, 14 TDs)

Receiving: K’Shun Evans (47 rec, 509 yds, 1 TD)

Defensive Leaders

Tackles: Chandler Ector (LB, 32 solo, 29 ast, 6.5 TFL/13 yds)

Sacks: Erin Brown (DL, 6.0 sacks/27 yds)

Interceptions: Decory McGee (CB, 3 INTs/101 yds)

Senior LB Chris Stapleton was named the GSC Defensive Player of the Week. Stapleton spearheaded the Panthers’ defensive effort in the 45-21 win over West Georgia.

Florida Tech notes:

Florida Tech currently sits fifth in the regional rankings, and with the top seven teams making the postseason, the Panthers should be right where they want to be if they can earn a win.

Florida Tech was on the outside looking in when it was ranked ninth in the first regional poll. Since then, the Panthers have won two straight games over regionally ranked teams,

Senior LB Chris Stapleton was named the GSC Defensive Player of the Week. Stapleton spearheaded the Panthers’ defensive effort in the 45-21 win over West Georgia. In this pivotal matchup for playoff positioning, Stapleton had a game-high 13 tackles. His 13 stops are tied for the most by any FIT player this season. Stapleton also had a sack in the game and helped hold the Wolves to just 272 yards of total offense.

Averaging 491 yards per game, the Panthers have the No.1 ranked offense in the Gulf South Conference. Allowing just 331 yards per game, FIT has the second ranked defense in the GSC.

The Panthers are second behind conference champion North Alabama in both scoring offense (39.6 ppg) and scoring defense (19.7 ppg) in the Gulf South Conference.

Panthers Barely Ranked, Must Win Saturday To Secure First Playoff Berth In Program HistoryRelated Story:
Panthers Barely Ranked, Must Win Saturday To Secure First Playoff Berth In Program History

Florida Tech by The Numbers

Offensive Leaders

Rushing: Antwuan Haynes (770 yds, 6.3 avg, 7 TDs)

Passing: Mark Cato (2211 yds, 245.7 avg/g, 17 TDs)

Receiving: Kenny Johnston (34 rec, 745 yds, 6 TDs)

Defensive Leaders

Tackles: Chris Stapleton (LB, 37 solo, 34 ast, 5.0 TFL/17 yds)

Sacks: Adonis Davis (DL, 6.5 sacks/47 yds)

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