James Ragan Photography Photo credit: James Ragan Photography

The Florida Tech Panthers lost a heartbreaker last Saturday to West Alabama, 29-22. The Panthers overcame a 14-point deficit, only to give the lead back late in the fourth quarter.

“We’ve done that more times than not where we start in the hole and have to dig ourselves out,” said head coach Steve Englehart after Thursday’s practice. “Fortunately, we were able to battle ourselves back and take the lead with really about seven minutes to go and then obviously gave the lead back up.” 

The Panthers scored one touchdown on offense, a six-yard run by Antwuan Haynes. Their points came on a pick-6 from Richard Leveille and three Trey Schaneville field goals. 

“We didn’t play great,” Englehart said. “We got the turnover for a touchdown on defense, but gave up a lot of yards, they had three chances for field goals and luckily they missed those. Offensively, we were 1-of-12 on third down, we got to the red zone but had to kick field goals, so we didn’t have good red zone offense.” 

“Ultimately, we just didn’t play well enough to win and we’re just good enough to hang in there and have a chance,” he continued. “We’re a team that right now, find ways to win. Hasn’t ever been very impressive and hasn’t ever been very pretty, but we find ways to win ugly games, unfortunately, that was an ugly game that we didn’t find a way to win.” 

Quarterback Trent Chmelik threw for 293 yards, completing 25-of-39 passes. He threw one interception late. 

“I didn’t think Trent played too awful bad, he definitely missed quite a few things,” said Englehart. “Running game couldn’t get going, then we got away from the running game because we were down and having to battle back. We didn’t rush for many yards (40) and didn’t have many attempts either (22). We gotta always find a way to run the ball and hopefully we can get committed to that and run the ball better against North Greenville. 

Haynes did tie the career touchdown record at Florida Tech with his first quarter score. He now has 24 touchdowns, tying him with Mark Cato. He also needs just eight yards to break the all-time rushing yardage mark held by Trevor Sand. There is a very good chance that he will eclipse both of those marks this Saturday, fittingly on Senior Day. 

One record that was broken in Saturday’s loss was the career tackle for loss record, as Adonis Davis got a tackle on Tevin Moore late in the game for a four-yard loss. That gave him 45.5 tackles for loss in his time as a Panther, setting the all-time record.

“AD has just been awesome,” said Englehart. “Been awesome as a leader of this team, he’s been awesome as a player. Obviously, our sack leader, and tackle for loss leader, it’s been pretty impressive, what he’s been able to do.” 

Next up, the Panthers (6-3, 3-3 GSC) will host North Greenville (4-4, 3-3 GSC) on Saturday, in the final regular season home game at Florida Tech Panther Stadium. The Crusaders come in having lost two in a row, to #7 Valdosta and #17 West Florida. 

“They’re a team that’s a very good passing team,” said Englehart. “Their run game scares ya, even though they haven’t got their run game going, it’s still a scary type of run game and their pass game is really good.” 

The leader of that passing game is Will Hunter, who has thrown for 1,913 yards and 15 touchdowns for North Greenville this season.

“This is our third year we’ve seen him because he was the playoff quarterback as well,” said Englehart. A good quarterback, they have a good passing offense, it’ll be a good challenge for us.”

Demajiay Rooks and Lucas Catalfomo are Hunter’s main targets. Rooks has 40 catches for 489 yards and four touchdowns, while Catalfomo has 36 catches for 556. They are each averaging more than a first down per reception. 

E.J. Hunter is the leading rusher for the Crusaders, with 264 yards on 103 attempts. He has just two rushing touchdowns this season. As a team, North Greenville has rushed for 545 yards on 275 attempts. 

On defense, Dominique Hunt has 38 tackles and Matthew Thomas has 31, including seven tackles for loss, to lead the team.  

“Defensively, they’re strong up front again, they’ve got strong defensive backs. “It’s just gonna take a good performance for us to get a W and if we do that, then obviously, we’ll like where we’re sittin’.” 

The all-time series between these two teams is tied 1-1. North Greenville knocked Florida Tech out of the playoffs in round one in 2016 and the Panthers won last season’s regular season game, the first against the Crusaders as a divisional opponent. 

Florida Tech is averaging 25.7 points per game, to North Greenville’s 21.1. The Crusaders have the edge in passing offense with 265.5 yards per game, to the Panthers 236.9. The rushing yardage sees the Panthers with a lopsided advantage, 117.1 to 68.1. 

Defensively, the Panthers are allowing 24.6 points per game, while the Crusaders give up 24.8. Florida Tech’s defense allows 186.3 passing yards per game, while the Crusaders allow 216.5. On the ground, North Greenville gives up 142.6 yards a game, while FIT allows 158.6.

Right now the Panthers are sitting sixth in the regional rankings, with West Alabama sitting ahead of them. If the Panthers win their final two games of the season, there is no reason to believe they won’t be playing in the postseason. 

Saturday’s kickoff is scheduled for 2:00 p.m. EDT. If you can’t make it out to the game, make sure you listen to Jerry Durney and Alfredo Muente on WFIT 89.5 and WFIT.org. You can also watch the game here. Pregame starts at 1:30 p.m. 

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