The Florida Tech Panthers got their season off on the right foot Saturday, with a 33-14 win over Benedict College, a team that finished 7-2 last season. The Panthers defense keyed the victory, forcing four turnovers, including a pick-6 by junior safety John McClure on the first defensive play of the night.
On Thursday, Coach Steve Englehart met with Sports Lowdown to talk about the victory and look ahead to the Newberry game, this Saturday.
“Obviously the defense played really good, got four turnovers,” said Englehart. “Our special teams created some field position for us at times and we were able to score when they did that, so we played complementary football in those regards. When we got good field position we did well offensively and when we didn’t, we didn’t do very well.”
There was plenty to work on offensively this week in practice, including third-down conversion and getting first downs to keep the offense in rhythm. The Panthers ended the night 3-of-14 on third down.
“When we’re only running fifty-some plays on offense, that’s just not good,” Englehart said. Defense is just playing too many plays.”
Senior wide receiver Romell Guerrier set up two touchdowns for the Panthers, with a 49-yard catch that took the ball to the three-yard line in the first quarter and one early in the third quarter for 18 yards that set the Panthers up at the one. Junior running back David Bryant finished both of those drives with one-yard touchdown runs.
“He got Player of the Week for us just because of those types of plays,” Englehart said. “He adds a dynamic that can give you some explosive plays and hopefully we can continue to do that. I just want us to be more consistent between the 20’s and I’ll still take those big plays that Romell gets. I was happy with the way he played, we gotta have that from him all year.”
Junior Trent Chmelik was the man throwing those passes to Guerrier. He threw for 191 yards on 14-of-27 passing.
“He started off a little jacked up,” Englehart said. “He needed to compose himself a little bit right from the beginning. He missed on some throws, I think just because of his adrenaline. He’s gotta be able to calm down, make the decisions and make the throws.”
“I had no problem with his decision making,” Englehart continued. “We just gotta execute those decisions.”
Senior running back Antwuan Haynes was held in check for much of the night on Saturday until he broke a 42-yard run with 10:19 to go in the fourth quarter, giving the Panthers their final touchdown of the night. Haynes finished with 82 yards on 15 carries.
“I thought he did a good job and played a pretty good game,” said Englehart. “I thought he missed a couple cuts early on that would’ve been for some better yardage, but overall he played well, kept plugging away and got the big one at the end.”
It helped that Englehart and the coaching staff knew that the Benedict defense was going to give the Panthers fits at times. They knew it and made sure the players knew it.
“We told our offense it was going to be tough running the football and we may not get a lot of yards, but eventually we’re gonna pop one,” said Englehart. “If you tell them that beforehand, they’re not as upset with themselves when it happens and they keep plugging away. If they don’t understand it, that’s when it frustrates them even more.”
Next up for the Panthers is this Saturday’s home opener against Newberry College, who lost to Western Carolina last Saturday, 33-26.
“We are familiar with them,” said Englehart. “Their offensive coordinator (Todd Varn) was the offensive coordinator at Presbyterian College (who the Panthers played in 2016). A little bit familiar with what they do and they’ve got a really good quarterback, a dual-threat guy that really makes it happen. We gotta get to that quarterback and take him down.”
Offensively, we gotta put some pressure on them by scoring early and kinda getting a good start,” Englehart continued. “Kind of force them into playing a certain way.”
Kickoff from Florida Tech Panther Stadium is scheduled for 1:00 p.m. If you can’t make it out, tune into Jerry Durney and Alfredo Muente on 89.5 FM WFIT or WFIT.org.