Delta State running back Chris Robinson ran for 210 yards and four touchdowns on Saturday, leading the Statesmen to a 42-20 home victory over the Florida Tech Panthers in the final game of the season for FIT. The biggest bright spot for the Panthers in this one was running back Antwuan Haynes eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark for the season.
The Statesmen finished with 302 yards rushing and 418 yards of total offense. The Panthers final team stats are not accurate, due to a mix-up in the rushing statistics.
“We started off good, just couldn’t sustain,” Florida Tech coach Steve Englehart told Jerry Durney and Paul Van Scott during his postgame interview. “We couldn’t sustain on offense and didn’t finish drives and put our defense in bad positions a couple times. Other times they just ran the ball down our throats.”
Florida Tech (5-6, 3-5 GSC) got off to a pretty good start in this one, scoring 13 points, but Delta State turned things around in a hurry, taking a 21-13 lead into the locker room, They would score 35 unanswered points before all was said and done.
The Panthers scored on their second offensive possession after forcing a punt from deep in DSU territory. The drive started on the Delta State side of the field at the 48 and Florida Tech quarterback Mark Cato completed a 47-yard pass down the sideline to Kevin Purlett. placing the ball on the one. Cato ran it in two plays later and with 8:21 on the clock, the Panthers were up 7-0.
A fumble by Lad Peterson later in the quarter was picked up by Daniel Welch at the 31 and he ran it back 65 yards, to the Statesmen four-yard line. Credit to Evan Thompson for knocking the ball loose on the play. After Haynes rushed for two yards, Sekai Lindsay got the final two and gave the Panthers a 13-0 lead with 36 seconds left in the quarter. The extra point was blocked by Delta State.
Delta State (8-3, 5-3 GSC) put together a good drive with 13:00 left in the second quarter, covering 50 yards in 13 plays. Robinson rushed for 30 yards on the drive, including the final four, closing the gap to 13-7 and taking 5:05 off the clock.
Cato would throw an interception on the next Panthers possession, setting DSU up at the 29. It was another run-heavy drive, with Robinson taking it the final 18 and giving his team a 14-13 lead, with 4:00 left in the half. After the Panthers went three-and-out, Delta State quarterback Breck Ruddick found Mario Lanier with a 77-yard pass that was perfectly placed and put the Statesmen up 21-13, with 1:47 to go in the half.
Delta State started their next drive at the Panthers 40, but Welch made sure they didn’t get any more points before the half when he picked off the Ruddick pass and returned it 44 yards, as time expired.
Robinson picked up right where he left off in the first half, as he capped the first Delta State drive of the second half with a five-yard touchdown run, capping a nine-play, 67-yard drive and giving the Statesmen a commanding 28-13 lead.
The Panthers put together an impressive drive on their ensuing possession that included a 21-yard completion to Demetrius Frazier and a 25-yard hook-up with Robert Foy. Unfortunately, the drive would end on a pass into the end zone by Cato that was picked by Keith Flanigan. With that, a 16-play drive that took 6:31 off the clock yielded nothing.
Delta State answered with a 10-play, 80-yard drive of their own, which ended with Robinson running it in from 27 yards out, making it 35-13, with 35 seconds left in the third. After coming up empty on their next drive, the Panthers finally found the end zone on a nine-yard Cato to Frazier connection, with 6:28 to go in the game, making it 35-20 Delta State.
“We got the score there to go down 15 and we stop ’em and get the ball back and you think we can go down and get another score,” Englehart said. “That’s when we don’t capitalize again on offense and we don’t get the score. At that point, they come back out, run the ball down the field and get the last score.”
A four-yard run by Ruddick capped the scoring with 1:41 to go in the game and sent the Panthers to their first losing season since 2013.
“It’s similar to our second year as a program when you lose 30-some seniors a year ago, ya kind of have to rebuild a little bit,” said Englehart. “We thought the guys we had here on the roster were gonna be able to do that. I do think we were more athletic than what we were a year ago, it’s just a matter of those guys learning to play together. We just gotta get stronger all the way around.”
For more info: Florida Tech @ Delta State Box Score
Cato finished with 223 yards passing Saturday, in his last game as a Panther. He completed 18-of-35 passes with one touchdown and two interceptions. He finished the season completing 53.4 percent of his passes for 1,889 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Haynes finished with 73 yards rushing and finished second in the conference with 1017 yards. Robinson finishes first, with 1,079 yards.
Injury update: Justin Wright was hurt in the fourth quarter and was carted off the field, wearing an air cast. Englehart gave a brief update during his postgame, saying it was an ankle injury, but he’s fine and that he hopes there’s nothing broken.