Florida Tech Edges Savannah State 23-22 in Season-Opening Thriller On the Road

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Florida Tech improves to 6-1 all-time in season openers since Inaugural campaign in 2013

SPACE COAST DAILY TV: Florida Tech Football opened their season with a thrilling 23-22 win at Savannah State on Sunday. Florida Institute of Technology head coach Steve Englehart spoke to Space Coast Daily’s Chris Bonanno about the win and the team’s next game on the road at Newberry on Saturday.

The Florida Tech Panthers picked up most of their yards through the air in the Panther’s 23-22 win over Savannah State with Trent Chmelik passing for 331 yards, hitting on 16-of-26, two touchdowns and an interception. He also ran for 24 yards in the game. (Florida Tech image)

SAVANNAH, GEORGIA – Freshman quarterback Mike Diliello punched in a touchdown with just over two minutes to go in the game and senior safety Daniel Welch made a game-saving tackle on a two-point attempt with 14 seconds left as Florida Tech held on for a 23-22 season-opening victory over Savannah State on Sunday.

“You always learn a lot from the first game but obviously from this one we’re going to learn a lot more,” said head coach Steve Englehart. “This was a hard-fought, gut-check type of game.”

With the win, Florida Tech improves to 6-1 all-time in season openers and 4-0 when kicking off the season on the road. This contest also marked the first time the Panthers played and won a game on a Sunday.

Tech’s offense got off to a fast start as it drove 75 yards in five plays and scored on their first possession of the game and season.

Senior quarterback Trent Chmelik went 3-for-4 for 74 yards on the drive and found Max Linder for a 48-yard touchdown to put the Panthers up 7-0 just 1:52 into the contest.

SSU got back into the game following an extensive scoring drive early in the second quarter.

“You always learn a lot from the first game but obviously from this one we’re going to learn a lot more,” said head coach Steve Englehart. “This was a hard-fought, gut-check type of game.” (Florida Tech image)

The Tigers held the ball for more than five minutes and went 72 yards down the field in nine plays, capping the possession with a 34-yard touchdown scamper by Quentavious Wilson.

Omouri Skinner broke through and blocked the ensuing point-after attempt by SSU to leave the Panthers with a 7-6 lead, which they took into halftime.

The Panther defense stopped SSU in five plays to open the second half. Two plays later, Chmelik connected with Miles Kelly for a 76-yard completion to set Tech up with a first down on the Tigers’ 11-yard line.

Savannah State held strong deep in their red-zone and limited FT to a 23-yard field goal by Trey Schaneville that gave Tech a 10-6 advantage with 9:31 to go in the third quarter.

The Panthers drove down the field again on their next possession, this time executing 11 plays for 73 yards in just over four minutes, and capped the drive with a 17-yard touchdown strike from Chmelik to Simon Williams in the end zone.

Schaneville missed the ensuing PAT and Tech had a 16-6 edge with 12 minutes remaining.

SSU’s Giovanni Lugo knocked in a 44-yard field goal with 8:40 left to make it a one-touchdown game.

A fumble by Linder four plays later gave the Tigers the ball won Florida Tech’s 24-yard line. D’Vonn Gibbons then helped SSU tie the game at 16-16 with a seven-yard touchdown run at the 5:28 mark of the fourth quarter.

With momentum on the other side of the field, Florida Tech needed a sustained drive to keep their chances alive. And the Panthers responded.

In a possession that featured runs of 15, 18 and 27 yards, by three different players, the Panthers moved the ball down the field and set themselves up for a potential game-winning score with little time left.

Freshman quarterback Mike Diliello punched in a touchdown with just over two minutes to go in the game and senior safety Daniel Welch made a game-saving tackle on a two-point attempt with 14 seconds left as Florida Tech held on for a 23-22 season-opening victory over Savannah State on Sunday. (Florida tech image)

Diliello would punch it in from five yards out to hand Tech a touchdown advantage with 2:12 to go. The touchdown was the first of Diliello’s collegiate career.

The Tigers responded once again with another touchdown, this time with Gibbons finding Cameron White for a six-yard score that made it 23-22 with 14 seconds left on the clock.

Looking to win it in regulation, SSU head coach Shawn Quinn decided to go for two and the win instead of potentially going to overtime.

When the ball was snapped it looked as though the Tigers had a good set called but Welch blew-up the play with a diving tackle in the backfield, preventing the two-point conversion and keeping the Panthers ahead by one point.

Senior John McClure then pounced on the ensuing on-side kick attempt to seal the season-opening win for the Panthers.

Englehart was pleased with his team’s resolve in a back-and-forth game against a talented Tigers’ roster.

“When you have a game like that, it benefits you later in the season because you have in those situations before. I think that’s key for us. And we’re excited to get this one and go home with a win.”

Florida Tech ran 63 plays, three more than SSU, and outgained the Tigers 461-269 Sunday afternoon. Savannah State was limited to 23 yards through the air but racked up 246 on the ground in the game.

SSU had almost 35 minutes of possession time in the contest, mostly a result of forcing Tech into four turnovers while giving up none of their end.

John McClure, a preseason All-GSC selection, led Tech on the defensive end with 13 tackles, including five solo stops and one tackle for loss. (Florida Tech image)

The Panthers picked up most of their yards through the air with Chmelik tossing for 331 yards on 16-of-26 passing, two touchdowns and an interception. He also ran for 24 yards in the game.

Kelly led the receiving corps with five receptions for 143 yards. Linder finished with two catches for 62 yards and a score while Damien McGhee and Brian Spurgeon, Jr. both recorded two receptions for 38 yards.

Tech utilized a running back by committee approach against the Tigers with Drezyn Parson leading the way with 48 yards on eight carries. Corey Lane picked up 40 yards on nine touches. Diliello picked up 41 yards and a score on four rushes and

McClure, a preseason All-GSC selection, led Tech on the defensive end with 13 tackles, including five solo stops and one tackle for loss.

Thierry Lafortune racked up nine tackles, a sack and 2.5 tackles for loss. Patrick Banks, Evan Thompson and Daniel Welch all ended with seven tackles while Marquise Lewis finished with six stops, including five of the solo variety.

The Panthers are back in action in six days, on Saturday, Sept. 14, as they travel to South Carolina for a matchup with regional rival Newberry College. That game is set to kick off at 1 p.m. at Setzler Field.

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