The Florida Tech Panthers suffered their first loss of the season on Saturday, falling to the eighth-ranked West Georgia Wolves, 30-21 in a Gulf South Conference game at University Stadium in Carrollton, GA.
“Proud of the way our guys played, I’ve never had a problem with how hard they play,” said Panthers head coach Steve Englehart in his postgame interview with Jerry Durney and Alfredo Muente on WFIT. “We didn’t execute on a multitude of fronts. We didn’t win the fourth quarter, I don’t know if we got a first down in the fourth quarter other than there on the last drive.”
This was a back-and-forth affair through the first three quarters The Wolves outscored Florida Tech 23-7 in the second half and had 374 yards of total offense, while Florida Tech finished with 332. Florida Tech did not score in the fourth quarter and that proved to be the difference.
FIT quarterback Trent Chmelik ran for 20 yards late in the drive and followed that up with a 16-yard completion to Robert Foy. Three plays later, Chmelik found Romell Guerrier, who made a great over-the-shoulder catch in the end zone, good for 31 yards and a 7-0 lead for the visitors. That drive went 11 plays, 83 yards and took 5:24 off the clock.
West Georgia (4-0, 1-0 GSC) answered back on their next possession, as quarterback Willie Candler led his troops on a 93-yard drive that took just six plays. He found Malik Henry, who caught a 33-yard touchdown, tying the game at 7 with 3:18 to go in the opening quarter.
West Georgia stopped Florida Tech after three plays on the next possession and the Wolves next drive carried over into the second quarter. Four plays into the quarter, J.T. Hassell forced a fumble by Candler that was recovered by De‘Vontae Weekley. During the scramble for the ball, Wolves running back Devontae Jackson was called for targeting and ejected from the proceedings. Unfortunately for the Panthers, they were unable to take advantage of the turnover.
Hassell finished the day with 10 tackles, including eight solos. He had one tackle for a loss and forced two fumbles. Adonis Davis registered one sack and is now tied with J.J. Sanders for the all-time Florida Tech record of 16.
Florida Tech (3-1, 1-1 GSC) did put together a nice drive on their next possession, helped by a pass interference call and a 10-yard run by Chmelik. The drive culminated in the second touchdown catch of the day for Guerrier, good for 11 yards. That gave the Panthers a 14-7 lead with 5:43 left in the half and that was the way the half would end.
Guerrier finished the day as the Panthers leading receiver, catching four passes for 56 yards and the two TD’s.
The Wolves would need just 13 seconds to tie the game as LaPerion Perry took the opening kickoff of the second half back 96 yards.
“You just can’t let a kickoff return go for a touchdown, you just can’t do it,” said Englehart.
To the Panthers credit, they bounced back nicely, using a nice mix of run and pass. Kiaryn Davis had a 25-yard run on the ninth play of the drive and Chmelik found Terrance Bynum for a 15-yard touchdown reception and helping the Panthers regain the lead, 21-14.
The next Florida Tech drive started at their own three-yard line, thanks to a good punt from Christian Ramirez. The Panthers came up empty, forcing Kyle Gullikson to punt out of his own end zone, the punt was a good one, traveling 43 yards, but was returned for 35 yards, setting the Wolves up at the Panthers 11.
The defense came up big for the Panthers, holding the Wolves to a field goal, closing the gap to 21-17. That’s how the third quarter would end, but West Georgia was driving. They got a 10-yard run from Candler on the second play of the quarter and he capped it off with a 10-yard pass to Henry, giving the home team their first lead of the day, 21-17. It was also the first deficit of the season for the visitors.
Meanwhile, Florida Tech’s offense was MIA in the fourth quarter. After a five-play drive that saw them gain 15 yards on their next possession, they held West Georgia but went three-and-out on the one that followed.
“You gotta move the ball in the fourth quarter,” Englehart said. “We just didn’t move the ball and they did. We had a lot of missed tackles and there’s a lot of things to work on for sure.”
The Wolves then ripped off an 11-play, 63-yard drive, that ended with a nice end-around play to Emoni Williams, giving the home team a 30-21 lead with 1:47 left.
The Panthers did not go down without a fight. Chmelik and Bynum hooked up on a 41-yard long ball that got the Panthers to the UWG 31. After Damien McGhee caught a 16-yard pass to get the Panthers into the red zone, Chmelik was intercepted in the end zone by Ashton Jackson and the Wolves were able to run out the clock.
The 41-yard completion to Bynum was Chmelik’s longest pass play of the day. He finished 17-of-31 for 191 yards and three touchdowns. McGhee, who was playing in his first game of the season with the Panthers, caught three passes for 20 yards.
For more info: Florida Tech @ West Georgia Box Score
Florida Tech will hit the road to play their final non-conference game of the season next Saturday, against a very tough Wingate team. The opening kickoff is set for 3:00 p.m.