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Panthers Escape Wingate With Late Victory

James Ragan Photography

Adonis Davis (48) is now the all-time Sack leader in Florida Tech history with 19
A return of a blocked extra-point by John McClure that would’ve tied the game, secured a 26-23 non-conference football victory for Florida Tech over Wingate on Saturday, giving the Panthers a 4-1 record in the first month of the season.

The defense stepped up as always, and McClure was a big part of that, coming up with his third interception of the season in the second quarter, tying the school’s single-season record for interceptions and leading to a Florida Tech touchdown.

‘“It was a crazy game,” said Florida Tech head coach Steve Englehart in his postgame interview with Jerry Durney and Alfredo Muente on WFIT. “We couldn’t muster up a drive offensively, we got the ball to midfield a few times and then fizzed out.”

The history-making day for the defense did not stop there, as J.T. Hassell sacked the quarterback four times, setting a single-game Florida Tech record. Hassell finished with nine tackles. Adonis Davis recorded one sack of his own, giving the Panther senior the all-time sack record of 19, beating the record previously held by J.J. Sanders. Davis led the Panthers with 11 tackles on Saturday.

In all, the Florida Tech defense finished with seven sacks on the day and 25 solo tackles.

After Bulldogs quarterback Shaw Crocker found J.T. Stokes, gashing the Panthers defense for 50 yards on the first offensive play of the day, the Panthers settled down, helped by Hassell’s two sacks. That effort resulted in a 44-yard field goal attempt that missed, keeping the game scoreless.

The Panthers had some bounces go their way all day, including a punt that was muffed and looked like it would result in points for Wingate, but the officials ruled that the ball went out of the back of the end zone before the Bulldogs gained possession and FIT got a touchback out of it.

A scoreless first quarter bled into the second quarter with neither team scoring on their first drive. After Florida Tech came up empty again, Wingate started their second drive with quarterback Jordan Lane under center. McClure read his first pass and picked it off at the 50, returning it to the 15 of the Bulldogs.

Florida Tech quarterback Trent Chmelik needed just one play, finding tight end Max Linder in the end zone, giving his team a 7-0 lead, with 10:41 left in the half.
The Bulldogs (2-3) answered back on their next possession going run heavy and getting a 23-yard run from Nijere Peoples, to tie the game at 7. Peoples was a huge weapon for Wingate all day, running for 133 yards on 23 carries.

After going 71 yards in just six plays on that drive, Wingate would come away with points on their next drive, using 6:30 off the clock and going 68 yards on 17 plays, resulting in a McLean Robertson 20-yard field goal, and the first lead of the day for the home team, 10-7. That left just 19 seconds on the clock and the Panthers went into the locker room down three.

“I laid into the offense pretty good at halftime, I may have hurt some of their feelings,” said Englehart. “But they came out and responded well in the second half. We were able to get some scores and take some pressure off our defense, but every time we got a score, it seemed like Wingate answered.”

The third quarter got exciting in the last two minutes. After a punt from Wingate gave the Panthers the ball at their own 31, Chmelik found Romell Guerrier, who found a hole in the defense and was gone, 69 yards for the score, giving the Panthers a 14-10 lead.

“That was just a simple slant play that should’ve been a six or seven yard gain maybe,” said Englehart. “He spun back and wheeled back down the sideline and outran everybody to the end zone.”
Marquise Lewis sacked Crocker on the first play of the ensuing Wingate drive, but he bounced back finding Stokes for 59 yards three plays later. Dezmond Morgan picked up a 15-yard penalty on the play for a horse-collar tackle on the play, giving the Bulldogs the ball at the two. Peoples ran it in as the quarter expired and the Bulldogs led 17-14.

Florida Tech started the fourth quarter on the 25-yard line and Chmelik found Brian Spurgeon for 60 yards right out of the gate. His next pass was to Guerrier, who hauled in a 15-yard touchdown, giving the Panthers a 21-17 lead.

James Ragan Photography

After Wingate was forced to punt on their next possession, the Panthers did exactly what you hope to do with a lead in the fourth. They went 71 yards in 12 plays, highlighted by a beautiful sideline catch by Guerrier that was good for 33 yards down to the 29. That was the fifth reception of the day for Guerrier, totaling 133 yards. That put him over 1,000 yards for his career. He is the fifth Panthers player to accomplish that feat.

Chmelik ended the day with 273 yards on 15-of-26 passing, with three touchdowns. He did not throw an interception but did fumble later in the drive after an 11-yard run. Luckily, Linder was there to save the day with the recovery and the drive eventually ended with a 20-yard field goal by Trey Schaneville, giving the Panthers a 24-17 lead with 5:47 left in the game.

“That was important that we went up seven there,” said Englehart. “Would’ve much rather had the touchdown obviously, would’ve been a much different situation, but we went up seven there.”

Wingate came right back with a Crocker to Domineke McNeill 40-yard pass play and Stokes caught a 25-yard pass and they would repeat that a couple plays later, putting the Bulldogs at the 16 of Florida Tech. Two plays later, that duo would finish a 10-play 75-yard drive with a touchdown connection, making it 24-23.
Robertson came in for the extra point and that was blocked by Tyrone Cromwell. The live ball was picked up by McClure, who ran it back for two points, giving the Panthers the 26-23 lead with 1:05 left in the game.

“I never would’ve thought that last drive they had would’ve of taken off that much time,” Englehart said. “I think they got the ball back with six minutes maybe and chewed it all the way down to one minute and then scored on a well-designed play.”

This was the second return of an extra-point this season for the Panthers, who first did it in the home win against Delta State two weeks ago.
“Our guys stepped up and ended up blocking the kick,” Englehart said. “It looked like the holder bobbled it so it got down late which allowed our penetration to get in there. Not only do that, but return the thing for two points, which was huge.”

The Panthers (4-1, 1-1 GSC) were not out of the woods yet, as the Bulldogs attempted an onside kick. Guerrier was able to get on top of it after a scrum at the bottom of the pile, that resulted in a Wingate player being tossed from the game.

“I know the ball was on the ground there and I think our first guy missed it and Romell was able to get on it,” Englehart said. “What a half Romell Guerrier had, made some unbelievable plays.”
From there, the Panthers were able to run out the clock and win the game.

For more info: Florida Tech @ Wingate Box Score

“We’re 4-1 in September and 3-0 in non-conference region play, which is huge,” said Englehart.

Florida Tech returns to conference play on Saturday, as they host Mississippi College at Florida Tech Panther Stadium. Opening kickoff is scheduled for 7:00 p.m.