Florida Tech Looks to Bounce Back From Worst Loss In Program History At North Alabama
By Alan Zlotorzynski, Assistant Editor // October 6, 2017
Panthers In a Must Win Conference road game
ABOVE VIDEO: Highlights from the Panthers 23-21 loss last Saturday night including an interview with UWF head coach Pete Shinnick.
BREVARD COUNTY • MELBOURNE, FLORIDA — The Florida Tech Panthers are 16-8 at home since the program kicked off with a win over Stetson back on September 7, 2013. Of the eight losses in the programs home record history, none was more excruciating than last Saturday’s 23-21 loss to West Florida in the Second Annual Coastal Classic.
In fact, none of the Panthers losses in their brief history was as painful as falling to the Argonauts last Saturday. Panther head coach Steve Englehart, 55-35 during his nine-year coaching career said, “It was, without a doubt, the toughest loss of my coaching career.”
The only time Florida Tech trailed in the contest was when time ran out in the fourth quarter.
Good Coaches never blame officiating for a loss and Englehart is no exception and he exudes to much class to start now.
So allow me to take this moment to tell you that a series of bad calls and mistakes by the guys in the black and white striped shirts cost the Panthers a game that was for all intent and purpose, in the bag.
While there were several bad calls throughout the games first 58-minutes that made you scratch your head, the debacle really began with a late changing of the down marker with just under two minutes to play, which totally changed the Panthers approach and play call selection and the buffoonery ended with what must be considered the most ridiculous intentional grounding penalty in football history, at any level.
ABOVE VIDEO: The video of Mark Cato’s final pass of the game and while he did not leave the pocket, he did have a receiver in the area but was flagged for intentional grounding.
Toss in the targeting call on FIT’s First Team All Gulf South Conference defensive back Joe Jackson with under five minutes to play in the game and you have a hat trick of officiating misery that cost the Panthers what could turn out to be a very crucial ”W”. Jackson was called for targeting and ejected from the game late in the fourth after Argos QB Mike Beaudry scrambled for four yards on third and 10.
Beaudry never slid and was caught from behind by the Panthers Darius Goodman. Jackson arrived a split second later and pulled up a bit never leavig his feet. Replays verified Jackson stayed grounded and appeared to pull back a tad just leaning in with his helmet.
But in today’s game player safety is a paramount issue and on field officials are taking no chances and neither did the side judge, as he threw the flag and Jackson was ejected.
Under NCAA rules he would have to sit out the first half of this week’s game against North Alabama. However, FIT appealed the ruling and won. Jackson is now eligible to play all four quarters on Saturday.
ENGLEHART ACCEPTS RESPONSIBILITY:
The Panthers aren’t blameless in collecting their second “L” of the season. While the poor officiating contributed to the loss, Florida Tech didn’t help their cause at times.
“I accept full responsibility for a loss like that. Losing a game we should have won, with the way we lost falls on the shoulders of no one else but the head coach,” Englehart said, during this weeks taping of “In The Red Zone” on Space Coast Daily TV.
FIT failed to put the game away on several occasions and committed numerous penalties on third down that extended drives for the Argonauts. There is also the matter of running out of bounds with under two minutes to play and the execution of the final play, which the Panthers practice and ran successfully earlier this season against Virginia Lynchburg University, as QB Brendan Ziarno ran arond the pocket then passed the ball allowing the clock to expire.
And when asked about replacing starting QB Trent Chmelik with the Panthers usual starter, Mark Cato, who did not start due to an injury to his non-throwing shoulder coach Englehart said, “Hindsight is 20-20 and everyone second guesses themselves but I if had that situation back I would have left Trent in. He did a nice job for us and I should have let him finish it.”
Chmelik was very good in his first start at QB for the Panthers. The Clearwater Florida native was 13-20 for 127 yards with one TD and one INT. He rushed for 62 yards on nine carries and added another TD on the ground.
Speaking of rushing yards, Junior RB Antwaun Haynes decimated another GSC defense, as he rushed for 169 yards on 32 carries and added one touchdown. The Panther offense outganied the Argonauts 374-314 with 250 yards coming on the ground.
The game was reminiscent of a home contest to kick off the 2015 season against Newberry when the Wolves scored with .34 seconds to play and would go onto win the game 31-28 following a missed a 51-yard game tying field goal attempt by FIT at the buzzer. That loss was devastating in that FIT led for much of the second half and when it came time to hand out playoff spots two and half months later, the Panthers missed out while Newberry, a team with one more loss on the season than FIT, made it in.
That is the beauty of college football. Whether it’s the first, fifth or last game of the season—THEY ALL MATTER.
UNA NOT HAVING A LIONS TYPE SEASON:
The only way the Panthers can ensure their playoff destiny is to put last Saturday behind them and win moving forward. But that won’t be easy, as the conference schedule continues to get tougher. This week the Panthers take to the road to face the University of North Alabama Lions.
At 1-3 on the season and with two of those losses in conference play, the Lions are looking to restore the roar in 2017 after playing in their fifth NCAA D2 College Football Championship game last December. UNA lost 29-3 in that contest to Northwest Missouri State. This weekend is homecoming at Braly Stadium in Florence, Alabama where the Lions are 48-19-1 all-time in their 68 previous Homecoming games.
Alabama is a state rich in college football history and UNA is very much a big part of it.
The Lions have won three Division II National Championships in football — all in succession from 1993-95 to become the first school in the history of NCAA scholarship football to win three consecutive national titles and have made 21 appearances in the Division II Playoffs, including 11 of the past 12 years.
UNA is also a charter member of the Gulf South Conference which began play in 1972 but this season will be their last in the GSC, as they transition to Division I play next year. The school made the decision last December to move up and the football team will play next season as an Independent in the Football Championship Subdivision, and then join the Big South Conference in 2019 as part of the Big South-Atlantic Sun football alliance.
Battling through numerous injuries to start the season, including the loss of starting quarterback Blake Hawkins, UNA enters Saturday’s contest on the heels of back-to-back Gulf South Conference losses. That hasn’t happened since October of 2012, the only season in the past 12 they missed the playoffs.
In years past this may have been a game that Panthers fans dreaded but given the sitaution and the play of the Florida Tech defense, which has been stellar this season, the contest is winnable.
PANTHERS D STELLAR:
Under first year Defensive Coordinator Rick Minter, the Panthers “D” is ranked first in the GSC in yards allowed per game (253), second in passing defense and third in rushing yards allowed per contest. If FIT was looking for an area of improvement it would be creating turnovers.
The Panthers have forced one turnover this season, a JT Hassel interception on West Florida’s first offensive play of the game last Saturday. However, Saturday may be the opportunity Florida Tech is looking for to break out of the T/O slump. The Lions offense has turned the ball over 11 times in the last three weeks.
Panthers DE Adonis Davis, who had two sacks last week, has to be eyeing a big game as the Lions offensive line has allowed 19 sacks. By contrast UNA quarterbacks were sacked just 22 times last season in 14 games.
On the defensive side, UNA is allowing 26 points per game but has picked off seven passes and recovered three fumbles. True-freshman linebacker Christon Taylor has been impressive, earning a starting role in the middle of the UNA defense and leading the team in tackles with 38.
FIT will need to be alert on every second of every play. UNA signal caller Rico Burton is a duel threat QB who can run his way out of trouble very quickly. The junior took over for Hawkins after he was injured in the win over Valdosta State and has passed for 407 yards and two TD’s but leads the Lions in rushing with 278 yards and three TD’s in three games this season.
ABOVE VIDEO: Lions head coach Chris Willis talks baout the tough loss to West Georgia and this weeks upcoming game vs. the Panthers.
Florida Tech’s offense comes in averaging more than 30 points and 413 yards per game. Running back Antuwan Haynes has rushed for 559 yards and four touchdowns for a 111.8-yard per game average. Coach Englehart said Mark Cato is likely to get the start, as the Red-Shirt Sr. QB is feeling much better.
Cato passed for 353 yards and five touchdowns in a loss the last time these two teams played in 2015. Florida Tech has yet to defeat UNA in three games played against the Lions.
UNA downed Florida Tech 55-28 in Melbourne in 2013 and beat the Panthers at home again, 34-31 in 2014. In 2015, the two teams combined to score 103 points and register over a 1,000 yards of offense but the 48 points FIT put up were not enough as the Lions scored 55 at home in earning their third straight win over Florida Tech.
The game scheduled between the two teams was cancelled last year due to Hurricane Matthew.
OUTLOOK & PREDICTION:
Coach Englehart said it best during this week’s taping of “In The Red Zone”, “The team that losses this game is likely out of the playoff race, or will have a long uphill climb to get back into it” Despite picthing two shutouts and being 3-2 on the year, the Panthers have yet to play four solid quarters of football in 2017.
Coach said that the team put Saturday behind them and was ready to go on Sunday. They will have to be because at 1-3 and with two conference losses, one of the all-time best programs in D2 football history has their backs against the wall.
In their final year of play in the GSC the UNA Lions do not want to miss the playoffs.
With another impending storm storm heading towards the gulf coast region, the Panthers will have to weather the Lions likely powerful surge to start this game on homecoming weekend. If Mark Cato does start and even if he doesn’t, FIT QB’s will have to find the big play that has been a big part of the FIT offense in seasons past but so far is absent in 2017. Finding a way to quiet the crowd and not fall behind early is a big key in this contest.
The Panthers defense must come out and be prepared to contain QB Rico Burton and do so by being the more physical but better disciplined team this week. Last week, FIT had nine penalties for 122-yards and gave the Argos offense five first downs via the yellow flag.
In the end, the Panthers will follow up the worst loss in program history with biggest clucth road win in their five short years. If Mark Cato can do half of what he did their two years ago (353 yds., 5 Td’s) and Antwaun Haynes can rush for another 100, the Panthers will get the critical road “W”
Panthers 31 Lions 27
Space Coast Daily’s Alan Zlotorzynski is making the trip with the team for this big contest and will keep you updated all weekend long right here and on Space Coast Daily TV. You can follow Alan on Twitter @Zlotsports.
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