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Gridiron Lowdown: Playoff Bound

J.T. Hassell #1 James Ragan Photography


The Florida Tech football team secured a postseason spot last Saturday with a 55-7 win over Shorter in their regular season finale and set a school record for points in a single game in the process. With the win, the Panthers finished 8-3 overall and 5-3 in the Gulf South Conference.

Most of the Florida Tech starters played only the first half, as the Panthers built a 38-0 lead at the break. Starting quarterback Trent Chmelik threw for 157 yards, completing 12 of his 17 passes. He threw three touchdowns and one interception.

Antwuan Haynes only carried the ball 12 times for the Panthers, rushing for 101 yards and a touchdown. Haynes averaged 8.4 yards a carry and broke the all-time touchdown record at Florida Tech, with the 25th of his career.

Receiver Romell Guerrier caught five balls for 98 yards and a touchdown. His touchdown was his 12th of the season, setting a single-season record for touchdowns.

With the victory, the Panthers were made to wait until Sunday to see if they would play in the postseason. The team and coaches gathered at the Hilton Rialto to watch the NCAA Selection show. Florida Tech was ranked sixth in the final national rankings in Super Region 2 and that’s where they would stay when they were selected to play in the postseason for the second time in program history.

Florida Tech’s first foray into the playoffs came in 2016, losing to North Greenville, 27-13.

The opponent for the Panthers will be third-ranked Lenoir-Rhyne, who finished 10-1 overall and 7-0 in the South Atlantic Conference. The Bears are making their fourth playoff appearance overall, and first since 2014.

This will be the first-ever meeting between the Panthers and the Bears. Lenoir-Rhyne played two teams from the Gulf-South Conference in the regular season, suffering their only loss of the season to West Alabama, in the opening week. Their other GSC opponent was North Greenville in week two, a 51-24 win for the Bears.

Florida Tech’s last loss came to West Alabama in week nine, 29-22 and the Panthers beat North Greenville in week 10, 37-7.

The two teams had a third opponent in common, in Wingate. Florida Tech beat the Bulldogs 26-23 in week five, while Lenoir-Rhyne beat them 31-24 in week four.

Grayson Willingham is the man behind center for the Bears. He threw for 1,709 yards in nine games and set the Lenoir-Rhyne single-season record for touchdown passes with 20.

His favorite target is T.J. Smith, who caught 42 passes for 855 yards and 10 touchdowns. He has four 100-yard receiving games in 2018.

Running back Ameen Stevens has run for 600 yards and nine touchdowns. He averaged 4.7 yards on 127 carries.

On defense, linebacker Sherrod Williams won the SAC Defensive Player of the Week three times in a four-week span and leads the Bears defense with 83 tackles. He has six forced fumbles this season as well, tying him for the lead in all of Division II.

Chmelik finished the regular season completing 189 of his 305 passes, throwing for 2,452 and 19 touchdowns.

Guerrier led the Panthers in receiving, catching 56 balls for 946 yards and those 12 TD’s. Brian Spurgeon, Jr. had 30 catches for 425 yards.

Haynes led the Panthers rushing attack with 807 yards and five touchdowns. He averaged 4.5 yards on 178 carries.

Newly named GSC Defensive Player of the Year J.T. Hassell leads the Panthers with 105 tackles including nine tackles for loss, and three forced fumbles. Adonis Davis had 68 tackles, 15 tackles for loss and seven sacks.

Saturday’s game will be played at Moretz Stadium in Hickory, NC. Kickoff is set for 2:00 p.m. You can listen to Jerry Durney and Alfredo Muente on WFIT 89.5, and, starting with the pregame at 1:30 p.m. The game is also available on the TuneIn app.