Photo credit: James Ragan Photography
Richard Leveille (#26) had a pick-6 for the Panthers on Saturday.

The Florida Tech Panthers overcame a 14-point deficit Saturday night, only to fall short late, losing 29-22 to West Alabama in a key Gulf South Conference game.

Head coach Steve Englehart didn’t pull any punches in his postgame interview with Jerry Durney and Alfredo Muente on WFIT 89.5.

It’s disappointing, it’s disappointing, a 14-point spot once again,” he said. “We gotta find a way to start faster, we’re not doing that, gotta find a way to score in the red zone touchdowns, not field goals. We turned the ball over and turned the ball over on special teams… you’re not gonna win many games doing that.”

Florida Tech (6-3, 3-3 GSC) will now likely need to win their final two games of the season against North Greenville and Shorter to keep their hopes alive for a playoff spot.

Quarterback Trent Chmelik threw his only interception of the day with under 2:00 left, putting a damper on an otherwise good day. He threw for a career-high 293 yards, completing 25-of 39 passes.

West Alabama (6-3, 3-3 GSC) missed a 50-yard field goal on their opening drive but made up for it on their next possession of the day with quarterback Harry Satterwhite finding Bayley Blanchard for a 43-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead for the Tigers.

The Panthers next drive short-circuited when Kiaryn Davis fumbled at the Panthers 15 and West Alabama recovered. It took just two plays for West Alabama to score, with Derrick Underwood scoring a 17-yard rushing touchdown. Just like that, it was 14-0 with 2:49 left in the first quarter.

The Panthers went three-and-out on their next drive and ended the first quarter running 12 plays for a total of 30 yards.

UWA got into field goal range on their next drive, only to see Jordan Bennett’s kick go off the left upright from 44 yards out with 14:45 left in the second quarter.

Chmelik got the Panthers offense going, completing passes to Simon Williams (13 yards), Terrance Bynum (6 yards), Robert Foy (14 yards), and Romell Guerrier (14 yards). Running back Antwuan Haynes carried the ball the final six yards for the Panthers first touchdown of the day. With that touchdown, Haynes tied former quarterback Mark Cato for the career touchdown lead with 24.

Haynes finished the day with 43 yards, falling eight yards short of the all-time Florida Tech rushing mark, currently held by Trevor Sand. He should eclipse that mark, along with the career touchdown mark next week at home against North Greenville.

After forcing a West Alabama punt, the Panthers took over at their own 15. The drive featured an 11-yard pass to Brian Spurgeon and a 19-yard hookup from Chmelik to Guerrier. The Panthers were also helped by a targeting call on Alfred Dickens, that resulted in him being ejected. The drive stalled at the 14 and Trey Schaneville connected on a 31-yard field goal to [ull the Panthers within four, 14-10, completing a 10-play 71-yard drive.

Another missed field goal by Bennett came with 53 seconds left in the half and the Tigers went to the locker room with a 14-10 lead.

On the second possession of the third quarter, John McClure picked Satterwhite off on the West Alabama side of the field at the 48. It was the fourth interception of the season for McClure, setting a single-season record for interceptions by a Panther.

With the help of a 37-yard pass to Guerrier, that drive resulted in another Schaneville field goal, this one from 27 yards out, closing the gap to 14-13.

It could have been more, but the Panthers were hurt early in the drive by a pass to Bynum that looked on the replay like he was in bounds for a first down, but he was ruled out of bounds and the Panthers did not pick up another first down.

The Panthers defense held UWA on the next possession, only to have Davis fumble the punt. That set up the Tigers at the FIT 24 and Tyler Rogers capped the drive with a 1-yard run that gave UWA a 21-13 lead with 5:13 to go in the third.

“We gave them a short field twice where they came away with touchdowns,” Englehart said. “You can’t do that and win on the road, You gotta play mistake-free football. You can’t turn the football over and you gotta score in the red zone.”

Florida Tech faltered on the next drive with a seven-yard loss on a pass and Chmelik being called for an illegal forward pass on a play that would have picked up a first down. Instead, it was a loss of down and another Panther punt.

The Panthers tough luck continued on their next drive when a pass to Foy was knocked down not by a defender, but by an official. Foy was in position to catch it, instead, the Panthers were forced to punt again.

West Alabama started the next drive with 1:03 to go in the third. It didn’t last long, as Satterwhite threw the ball to Florida Tech’s Richard Leveille, who intercepted it and went 53 yards the other way for the pick-6, cutting the Tigers lead to 21-19. The two-point try was intercepted by Nicarius Peterson, keeping the Panthers from tying the game, heading into the fourth quarter.

The Panthers held West Alabama on their next drive and the Panthers started at their own 11. Spurgeon’s 12-yard catch got the drive off to a good start and a 24-yard completion to Max Linder got Florida Tech to the 47. A facemask on UWA got the Panthers down to the Tigers 40. Williams made an 8-yard catch and Terrance Bynum made a one-handed, highlight-reel catch, to the 16-yard line.

Two plays later, Chmelik took off and gained seven, coming up one yard short and Schaneville was called on for a 24-yard field goal. His kick gave the Panthers their first lead of the night 22-21, with 7:53 left.

“Obviously, Trey did a good job hittin’ three field goals, but we gotta come away with touchdowns,” Englehart said. “We can’t keep settling for field goals down there and beat a good team on the road.”

To their credit, West Alabama drove right down the field, helped by Blanchard, who caught three passes for 39 yards. Satterwhite found Jonnas Spivey for 15 yards, completing the touchdown drive. West Alabama converted the two-point try and led 29-22 with 4:23 to go in the game.

Chmelik found Damien McGhee for two passes totaling 20 yards on their next drive, but Chmelik would have to take off on 4th-and-5, coming up two yards short with 3:06 left.

After forcing another punt by the Tigers, Chmelik found Spurgeon for 18 yards, getting the Panthers to their own 38. Unfortunately, Chmelik was picked off by Jordan Graddy on the next play, giving the home team the ball back with 1:35 to go and they ran it out from there. It was Chmelik’s only turnover of the day.

For more info: Florida Tech @ West Alabama Box Score

Guerrier led the Panthers in receiving with four catches for 75 yards and Spurgeon finished with five catches for 51. McGhee was right behind him, catching three for 47. In all, eight different players caught passes from Chmelik on this night.

That’s good, I mean a lot of guys are getting the ball,” said Englehart. “I guess we gotta get the ball to Romell more, cause he scores touchdowns.”

On defense, J.T. Hassell had another outstanding game with 16 tackles, including eight solos. Evan Thompson had eight tackles, eight solos.

“I thought the defense played well,” said Englehart. “They forced turnovers, they got another touchdown. The defense isn’t the problem, we gotta score points, we gotta score points, that’s all there is to it.”

Florida Tech returns home Saturday for Senior Day, playing host to North Greenville in the final home game of the season. Kickoff is scheduled for 2:00 p.m. at Florida Tech Panther Stadium.

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