The Florida Tech Panthers improved to 2-0 with a 17-10 victory over the Newberry Wolves in Saturday’s home opener at Florida Tech Panther Stadium.
“Big win, I’ll tell ya. Obviously, Newberry is a tough team and it was a tough win to get against them,” said Panthers Head Coach Steve Englehart. “They came down ready to play and it was a physical game.”
The key play came on a 48-yard interception return for a touchdown by Florida Tech defensive back Richard Leveille. At the time it put the Panthers up 17-3 with 6:32 left in the third quarter. Leveille’s pick-6 is the second one in two weeks. In last week’s season-opening win over Benedict, John McClure had a 48-yard return of his own, on the first defensive play of the season.
“They ran the same play a couple plays earlier with the screen so once that lineman passed me, I knew what was coming,” Leveille said after the game. “As soon as I seen the ball, I just had to go get it.”
The Panthers defense played well overall and made the big plays when they needed them, but things got off to a shaky start when Evan Thompson was ejected for Targeting 1:31 into the contest. Marquise Lewis stepped in to take Thompson’s spot and did well. J.T. Hassell had 19 tackles (13 solos) to lead the defense, including one tackle for loss.
“On defense, we bend, don’t break,” Hassell said after the game.
“I can’t say enough about our defense and the way they played,” Englehart said. “Ultimately, I think they played one of their better games to date in the last two years. Really proud of the way they played.”
The penalty helped Newberry get into field goal range, but Kevin Weber’s 44-yard attempt was blocked by Leveille, and the game remained scoreless.
On the Panthers first offensive possession, they were forced to punt and a high snap from center had punter Kyle Gullikson retreating and although he was able to get to it, he kicked it out of bounds and the Wolves started their next drive at the Panthers 34.
Florida Tech’s defense stiffened and forced another field goal attempt from Weber. This one was no good from 40 yards out. Florida Tech would take over and quarterback Trent Chmelik would complete passes to Simon Williams (13 yards) and two passes to Antwuan Haynes (10 yards each) and Romell Guerrier for 13 yards later in the drive. Unfortunately, the drive stalled and Trey Schaneville missed a 42-yard field goal, meaning the Panthers came up empty on a 10-play drive.
Newberry would start the second quarter with a decent drive, helped by a Florida Tech pass interference, but that too would result in a missed field goal. Florida Tech would come up empty on their next drive, as did the Wolves.
The next Panthers drive featured a 27-yard run by Kamario Bell and culminated with a 14-yard pass from Chmelik to Guerrier for 14 yards and the Panthers first touchdown of the day, with 3:32 left in the half.
Newberry (0-2) got on the board as the first half horn sounded, as Shea Rodgers hit from 34 yards out, making it 7-3 at the half.
With 10:31 to go in the third, the Panthers started their second drive of the half with a bang, when Chmelik found Brian Spurgeon, Jr for 31 yards, to the Newberry 49. Antwuan Haynes, who was held to 24 yards on 15 carries in the running game, helped out with a 35-yard catch on the drive, down to the 14. That set up Schaneville for a 31-yard field goal, with 9:14 left in the third, extending the Panthers lead to 10-3. Haynes had six catches on the day for 74 yards.
Newberry ran four plays on their ensuing drive before Dre Harris had his pass picked off by Leveille who found his way through traffic, to the end zone with 6:32 left in the third, giving the Panthers a 17-3 lead.
The Wolves fought back on their next possession with a heavy dose of running from Voshon St. Hill, who ended the 11-play, 93-yard drive with a two-yard touchdown run, closing the gap to 17-10 as the third quarter came to a close.
Florida Tech went three-and-out on their first drive of the fourth quarter, but Gullikson pinned Newberry at their own nine, eventually forcing a punt. After Florida Tech went on a nine-play, six-minute drive on their next possession, Gullikson came up big again, as his punt was downed at the two-yard line.
“It was huge,” Englehart said of Gullikson’s punt. “The ball’s pinned at the two-yard line and the defense is ready to go. They tried to force a turnover and almost did, the ball was on the ground and could’ve scooped that ball up.”
“Field position is of big importance in the game,” said Gullikson. “The way the ball was placed I was getting a lot of opportunities to try to pin them, with the exception of the first one. “It’s really comfortable to sit back there, I know I got good protection and I trust my team.”
Newberry couldn’t do much on that drive, or the next one, and the Panthers were able to run the clock out on the final drive and take the win.
“Offensively, we played better than we did last week,” said Englehart. “Obviously, we didn’t score the points we wanted to, but we really moved the football. It became a field position game and we were able to stick it out and win it.”
“I told them in the locker room that I’m not concerned how we win, just that we got the win,” continued Englehart. “We’re 2-0 in region play and that’s important.”
Chmelik would throw for 211 yards on 18-of-24 passing. That was up from his 194 yards against Benedict.
For more info: Newberry @ Florida Tech Box Score
Florida Tech is back home next Saturday, September 15, to open their conference season against GSC foe Delta State.
“They’ll be tough, they always are,” said Englehart. “I know coach (Todd Cooley) will have them ready to play so we gotta go back to work on Monday and prepare well.”
Next week’s game is set for a 7:00 p.m. kickoff. If you can’t make it out to the game, listen to Jerry Durney and Alfredo Muente on WFIT 89.5 FM or the Tunein Radio app.