PREVIEW: Florida Tech Panthers Host No. 8 Valdosta State For Homecoming Today At 1 p.m.
By Daniel Supraner, Florida Tech Sports // October 13, 2018
sixth all-time meeting between the Panthers and Blazers
BREVARD COUNTY • MELBOURNE, FLORIDA – Florida Tech (5-1, 2-1 GSC) hosts undefeated No. 8/9 Valdosta State (6-0, 4-0 GSC) on Saturday, Oct. 13, for what should be a highly-contested Homecoming Game at Florida Tech Panther Stadium. Kickoff between the Panthers and Blazers is set for 1 p.m.
INSIDE THE SERIES
This will be the sixth all-time meeting between the Panthers and Blazers with VSU holding a 4-1 edge in the series. Including Saturday’s matchup, four of the six games between Florida Tech and Valdosta featured a ranked Blazers squad.
Florida Tech’s lone win in the series came in 2016, the last time the teams met in Melbourne. The Panthers won that game, 38-20, over No. 14 Valdosta State at Panther Stadium.
VSU has scored 30 or more points in each of its four wins in the series and has outscored the Panthers, 184-116, over the first five games. The winning team in the series has scored 38 or more points in each of the five previous meetings with the lowest output for the losing team at 14 points.
The Blazers won the closest meeting in the series 31-29 in 2014, in Melbourne, and won the biggest margin at 52-14 in the first meeting between the teams in 2013, in Valdosta.
LAST TIME OUT
Florida Tech used a 74-yard fumble recovery touchdown to anchor a second-half comeback against Mississippi College last Saturday, a game in which the Panthers won 31-24 at Panther Stadium.
Trailing 21-10 in the third quarter, the Panthers cut the deficit to four points on Dezmond Morgan’s defensive touchdown. The Crimson and Gray proceeded to outscore MC, 14-3, the remainder of the game to improve to 5-0 all-time against the Choctaws.
Trent Chmelik threw for 184 yards and a touchdown, and picked up 70 yards on the ground in the win. Brian Spurgeon, Jr. finished with four catches for 86 yards, while Damien McGheemade four receptions, including a spectacular touchdown grab in the fourth quarter, for 52 yards against the Choctaws.
Antwuan Haynes rushed for 112 yards and one touchdown on 15 carries. The senior running back now ranks No. 2 in program history with 3,067 rushing yards. Haynes joined former teammate, and Florida Tech all-time leading rusher, Trevor Sand (3,280) as the only Panthers to earn 3,000 or more rushing yards in a career.
J.T. Hassell broke a single-game defensive record for the second week in a row, recording a school-record 20 tackles versus the Choctaws.
After playing against Mississippi College’s triple-option offense, which puts a lot of strain and a pounding on the defense, head coach Steve Englehart said the defense needed a few days to readjust and get back to their normal defensive preparations.
“It took the guys a couple days to get the defense playing the way they need to play and get their reactionary stuff back,” said Englehart. “Obviously there was a lot of runs right at you last week (against Mississippi College), a lot of read-run situations where some of the reactionary stuff left because the defenders only had one job to do during that game.
“Overall, I thought we had a really good week of practice and the defense is really up for the challenge that Valdosta State presents, and I think our offense is up to the challenge knowing that we’re going to have to score some points.”
MEET THE OPPONENT: VALDOSTA STATE BLAZERS
VSU is coming off a 59-28 win over Delta State last weekend. The Blazers and Statesmen were tied 28-28 at halftime before VSU exploded for a 31-0 second half for the win. Sophomore quarterback Rogan Wells threw for four touchdowns and ran for two in the win, while the VSU defense held Delta State to just 121 yards of offense in the second half. It’s the fifth-straight game that the Blazers have scored 50 or more points.
Valdosta State is in its 37th year of intercollegiate football and owns an overall record of 286-126-4.
VSU head coach Kerwin Bell is 19-7 at Valdosta State in his third season, after enjoying a strong start in 2016 with an 8-3 record in his initial campaign and a berth in the NCAA playoffs. He is 1-1 all-time against Florida Tech.
VSU leads the nation in scoring offense at 55.3 points per game and has scored over 50 points each of the last five games with a season-high 63 points at Mississippi College (Sept. 29).
The Blazers are eighth in the AFCA poll and rank ninth in the D2Football poll. It marks the first time since 2013 VSU has been ranked in the top ten in both polls in the same week.
LAST TIME VS. VALDOSTA STATE
Florida Tech was defeated 42-14 the last time it faced Valdosta State on Oct. 28, 2017.
The Panthers were limited to 307 yards of offense, the second fewest of the season, and had three turnovers, while VSU racked up 423 yards of offense.
Guerrier caught four passes for 66 yards and a touchdown in the loss and Brian Spurgeon hauled in two passes for 60 yards. Haynes led the FIT ground game with 59 yards on 18 carries.
Hassell and Evan Thompson notched seven tackles in last year’s meeting, while Adonis Davis, Ian Pittman and Theirry LaFortune all collected a 0.5 sack, apiece.
VSU’s Rogan Wells accounted for all six of the Blazers’ touchdowns in the game. The quarterback completed 16-of-27 passes for 238 yards and two scores, and ran for 76 yards and four touchdowns on the ground.
INSIDE THE MATCHUP: FLORIDA TECH OFFENSE vs. VALDOSTA DEFENSE
The Panthers are sixth in the league in passing offense with 215.5 yards per game, while also ranking seventh in rushing at 119.5 yards. Florida Tech is averaging 26.3 points per game, also good for sixth in the GSC this season.
That scoring output may need to be increased if the Panthers are going to stay with the high powered VSU offense.
“We are going to need to be more aggressive on offense this week,” Englehart stated. “We need to stretch the field and keep them off balance, and maybe that will get them on their heels a bit. That’s the main thing. We have to go after them on offense. We just can’t sit there and hold the ball and hope our defense is going to stop them. We have to be able to score a lot of points.
“I hope it doesn’t turn into a shoot-out and that we’re the only ones who are scoring. But we need to be aggressive and go after them, and make some big plays.”
Chmelik is having a good year under center for the Panthers and ranks second in the GSC in completion percentage at 61.5 percent. Guerrier leads the league in receptions per game (5.0), and is second in the conference in touchdowns (6), receiving yards (456), and receiving yards per game (76.0).
VSU is allowing 19.0 points per game to its opponents, good for third in the GSC. Teams are averaging 172.7 passing yards and 154.8 rushing yards against the Blazer defense.
Iseoluwapo Jegede has been a force defensively for the Blazers and is tied for first in the league with 4.5 sacks. Jameon Gaskin is his team’s top tackler with 40 tackles, including 4.0 tackles for loss and one sack. Taurus Dotson is tied for second in the league with three interceptions.
INSIDE THE MATCHUP: VALDOSTA OFFENSE vs. FLORIDA TECH DEFENSE
VSU leads the GSC, and ranks 12th in the nation, in passing offense (304.7) and ranks second in the league in rushing offense at 237.7 yards per game. The Blazers have the top scoring offense in the nation at 55.3 points per game
Rogan Wells, who has been named the GSC Offensive Player of the Week four times this season, ranks first in the league in multiple categories. He leads the GSC in passing efficiency (172.7), passing yards (1,595), yards per game (265.8), and yards per completion (15.95). Wells ranks first in the country in passing touchdowns (23) and points responsible for per game (27.0).
Lio’undre Gallimore has 17 catches this year and is the GSC’s top receiver in regards to total yards (495) and yards per game (82.5). Fellow wide-out Brian Saunds paces the league, and ranks sixth nationally, with eight touchdown catches. Running back Jamar Thompkins is first in the league in rushing yards (583) and second in rushing touchdowns (5).
“On defense, we’re going to have to put pressure on Rogan Wells,” Englehart said. “We can’t just sit back and let him pick us apart. He is a very good quarterback so we definitely need to put pressure on him, do it at the right times, and mix up our coverages to give them different looks. We also just can’t give them the deep ball. We have to make sure we’re keeping the ball in front of us.
“We know they’re going to get plays, going to get first downs. We just can’t give them the big strikes down the field.”
J.T. Hassell and Adonis Davis, two of the better defenders in the country, will need to be up to the task against the Blazer offense. The Panther duo ranks in the top three in the GSC in sacks, solo tackles, tackles for loss.
Hassell ranks first in the nation in solo tackles per game (8.2) and is second in the nation in forced fumbles per game (0.67). The senior linebacker also leads the GSC, and ranks 9th nationally, in total tackles per game (11.5). He is also second in the league in sacks per game (0.75) and third in tackles for loss per game (1.2).
Davis, on the other hand, leads the GSC in sacks per game (0.83) and tackles for loss per game (1.5). He is also third in the league in solo tackles at 4.5 per game. John McClure is tied for third in the league with three interceptions and six passes defended.
It’s going to be a busy halftime at the football game. Florida Tech will be recognizing the Pi Kappa Alpha Alumni and the Squamish Club Alumni, who are each celebrating their 50th anniversaries at the university. The Homecoming Court will then take the field where the Homecoming King and Queen will be announced and Florida Tech Student Activities will present the United Way with a donation on the field. Halftime will come to a close with a joint performance from the Florida Tech cheerleaders and the Pep Band.
Florida Tech’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee is raffling off a signed Florida Tech Football jersey with proceeds benefitting the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Any donation is good for a raffle ticket. The winning raffle ticket will be pulled and announced between the third and fourth quarters.
Football single game tickets for this weekend’s game are still on sale. Tickets cost $16 for adult reserved seating and $14 for senior, child and FIT employee reserved seating. Adult general admission tickets are $12, while senior, child, and FIT employee general admission tickets are $6.
For questions regarding tickets, please contact the FIT Ticket Office at (321) 674-6228 or e-mail AthleticsTickets@fit.edu.
Parking at the Palm Bay Magnet High School and adjacent parking areas is $5 per vehicle, cash only. General parking can be purchased in advance on a season basis through the Florida Tech Ticket Office. Parking attendants will direct fans to the parking areas. Parking lots open two hours prior to the game. There is no tailgating permitted of any kind in these lots. PBMHS is a tobacco-free campus.
Parking at Florida Tech is free of charge and free shuttle service is provided to and from Palm Bay Magnet High School.
Tailgating is only permitted on Florida Tech’s campus in designated areas and begins at 9 a.m. every home game day. There is no charge for tailgating.
Alcohol and grilling are only permitted in the designated areas of FIT campus. Open fire grilling is not permitted in the parking garage. There is an area set aside for tents in the Panther Den, located to the east of the Varsity Training Center on the southwest corner of FIT’s campus.
The Panther Prowl, the name of the team’s pregame walk from the Denius Student Center to the Varsity Training Center, will begin at about 10:15 p.m.
Food and beverage will be available for sale at the concession stand at Florida Tech Panther Stadium. Outside food and beverage are not allowed inside the stadium.
For the latest news, updates and information on the Florida Tech football team, visit FloridaTechSports.com. Fans can also stay up-to-date on the latest Panthers news by following Florida Tech Athletics on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.
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