The Florida Tech Panthers got a big win in week eight, taking down the West Florida Argonauts 30-28 in the third meeting between the two schools. It was the first win for the Panthers in the Coastal Classic rivalry game.
Coach Steve Englehart, on Thursday, gave us his thoughts on that big win and what lies ahead in Saturday’s Gulf South Conference showdown against the West Alabama Tigers.
By virtue of their win against West Florida, the Panthers go into week nine with a 6-2 record, including 3-2 in the conference. It took an 18-point comeback to get there, the biggest come-from-behind victory in FIT history.
“I never even looked at it as that big of a comeback at the time of the game,” Englehart said. “We were playing pretty good, we just gave them the pick-6, we gave them the punt return for the touchdown and they had the big long pass, they just kind of got those three plays but they didn’t really do anything else in the first half on us.”
“I thought that we were more in control of the game, it just never felt like it was that big of a comeback,” he continued. “In the second half I knew if we could just chip away at it, get a couple field goals here and there and score some touchdowns I didn’t think they could score a lot on us in the second half, so I never felt like it was that big of a comeback.”
With this being the Panthers first win in the series and the two previous games being so close, this was a much-needed win, not just for the season, but for the program.
“It felt good after not getting the job done like we should have the last couple years,” said Englehart. “It feels good to win that trophy and have it here at our facility.”
The defense played a huge part in the Panthers victory, forcing five turnovers. It should have been six, as Dezmond Morgan picked off West Florida quarterback Sam Vaughn at the Florida Tech 45 and ran it in for the score, which would have made it 36-21 with under five minutes left. Unfortunately, a holding call erased the touchdown, but the Panthers did keep the ball, with the hold occurring after the interception.
After West Florida scored to make it 30-28, they recovered an onside kick, only to see their chances go up in smoke when Amani Peoples forced a Vaughn fumble that was recovered by Adonis Davis, securing the Panthers victory.
“I thought we got a bad call on Dez’s return for a touchdown, and obviously the last one of the game was a huge play that ended up winning the game for us,” Englehart said. “You always want to win the turnover battle, but you never expect to get five of them and you don’t expect to score on defense that much, but if we can win the turnover battle, we have a chance to win.”
Wide receiver Romell Guerrier had a 79-yard touchdown with 5:49 left in the game, putting the Panthers up 30-21. That was one of two touchdowns on the day for him. He ended up with six catches for 116 yards, good enough to earn him the GSC Offensive Player of the Week.
“Romell’s our big playmaker guy and it seems like every game he’s catching vertical passes down the field for touchdowns,” said Englehart. “We’ll continue to need him throughout the course of the year, he’s a really good player, he’s working hard and is having a great year.”
For the Panthers, the win over West Florida was nice, but their focus shifted to West Alabama on Monday.
“They’re playing for their playoff lives, as we are, they have all the motivation,” said Englehart. “We beat them last year at our place and prevented an undefeated season, they were the conference champs and their only loss in conference was to us.”
“It is also their homecoming game,” he continued. “They have a lot motivating them and we have to go out and match that.”
West Alabama (5-3, 2-3 GSC) currently sits sixth in the standings. Florida Tech won last year’s game 41-39 and holds a 3-2 lead in the series.
West Alabama is scoring 27.4 points per game, while the Panthers average 26.1. FIT quarterback Trent Chmelik has thrown for 1,824 yards this season, completing 139 of his 231 passes for the season. He has thrown 13 touchdown passes.
Guerrier is the Panthers main wide receiving threat, catching 43 passes for 687 yards and nine touchdowns. Brian Spurgeon, Jr. has 22 catches for 350 yards.
Panthers senior running back Antwuan Haynes has 575 yards on 131 carries this season. He is 50 yards away from breaking Trevor Sand’s all-time rushing record.
West Alabama quarterback Harry Satterwhite has thrown for 1,809 yards and 15 touchdowns. He has completed 152 of his 255 passes. His main target is Christian Saulsberry, who has 39 catches for 487 yards and two TDs. Saulsberry has eclipsed the 100-yard mark in the Tigers last two games.
Defensively, the Panthers are giving up an average of 24 points per game, while West Alabama is giving up 25.3. The Panthers defense is led by J.T. Hassell, who has 82 tackles, and seven tackles for loss. Adonis Davis leads the team in sacks with six and John McClure leads with three interceptions.
Terry Samuel leads the Tigers defense with 63 tackles, while Jordan Jones has 3.5 sacks. Nicarius Peterson leads in interceptions with three.
This game will be featured on ESPN3 as the GSC Game of the Week. You can get the hometown radio call on 89.5 WFIT with Jerry Durney and Alfredo Muente. They are also available on WFIT.org and the TuneIn Radio app. The pregame will start at 4:30, with kickoff at 5:00 p.m.