The Florida Tech Panthers turned the ball over six times on Saturday, and the Lenoir-Rhyne offense was hitting on all cylinders, as the Bears rolled to a 43-21 victory in the first round of the NCAA Playoffs in Hickory, NC.
“It’s tough, I love this team,” said Panthers head coach Steve Englehart, in his postgame interview on WFIT 89.5 with Jerry Durney and Alfredo Muente. “The senior class is a great group of guys and have given a lot ot the program. “Proud of those guys and can’t let it take away from the season that they had and they’re gonna be successful moving on.”
Florida Tech (8-4) suffered six turnovers in this game and they turned the ball over on downs another four times.
“It just wasn’t our day, wasn’t our day,” said Englehart. “A lot of respect for what they’ve (Lenoir-Rhyne) have done here.”
The turnovers started early, as Romell Guerrier couldn’t handle the opening kickoff and Lenoir-Rhyne started with the ball on the FIT eight. Give credit to the Panthers defense, as LR got a field goal out of it, as Chase Allbaugh kicked the first of five field goals on the day and give the Bears a 3-0 lead.
Durney made reference to seeing offensive coordinator Jayson Martin before the game and Martin said, ‘There’s gonna be a lot of excitement on the first play, we’re gonna score.’
The Panthers did just that as quarterback Trent Chmelik found Guerrier all alone on the flea flicker and he took it 74 yards and put the Panthers up 7-3 with 12:23 left in the first quarter. It was the second time in three weeks that the Panthers were successful with the flea flicker.
Lenoir Rhyne (11-1) drove 69 yards on their next possession and put seven on the board, thanks to a touchdown from quarterback Grayson Willingham to Drake Starks for 13 yards and a 10-7 lead for the Bears.
The Panthers then drove to the Bears 29, but Chmelik was sacked on a fourth and four, giving the ball to the Bears. The FIT defense forced a punt, and went for a bit of trickery on the next possession, running a fake punt with Thomas Roman, who scampered 33 yards. Two plays later, they ran a reverse and Guerrier threw a pass intended for Brian Spurgeon, Jr. The pass was underthrown and intercepted by Javoris Smith.
It didn’t take long for Willingham to take advantage, as he hooked up with Jaquay Mitchell for 67 yards, setting LR up for a 2-yard TD run by Ameen Stevens and a 17-7 lead for the home team.
After a seven-yard run by Antwuan Haynes, the first play of the second quarter was a Chmelik interception. The fifth play of the drive was a 31-yard pass from Willingham to Mitchell, and just like that, it was 24-7 in favor of the Bears.
The teams would then trade punts before FIT went on a five-play drive, resulting in another turnover on downs. Lenoir-Rhyne would turn that into a field goal, capping a 12-play, 61-yard drive and upping the lead to 27-7. That was the score at the half.
The Florida Tech defense forced a punt on the first possession of the second half, only to see Eric Jackson intercept Chmelik’s pass and Lenoir-Rhyne was in business again at the FIT 41.
Demarius Hampton caught a 33-yard pass from Willingham, but the Panthers defense came up big again, as Jimmy Hinel forced a fumble and John McClure recovered at the Florida Tech two-yard line. Chmelik would take off running on the opening play of the drive, but fumbled, setting the Bears up at the FIT 10.
A personal foul and a great stand by the Panthers defense forced another field goal and a 30-7 lead with 10:44 to go in the third.
The Panthers next drive ended on the first play when Jackson came up with his second interception of the game. Lenoir-Rhyne would tack on another field goal and go up 33-7 with 9:07 left in the third. After Panthers punter Kyle Gullikson shanked a punt that went nine yards, the Bears would start at the 19 and got a touchdown out of it, thanks to a Willingham to Ryan Carter connection for a 17-yard touchdown and a 40-7 lead.
The Ensuing kickoff ended up in the arms of Derrick Wright, who found a seam up the sideline and took it back 93 yards for the touchdown. That made it 40-14 with 3:11 left in the third.
Feeling a momentum shift, the Panthers went for the sky kick, and it worked, setting the Panthers up at the Bears’ 26. A five-play, 26-yard drive culminated in a nine-yard pass to Haynes and a 40-21 score. It was the Panthers second touchdown in 35 seconds.
Lenoir-Rhyne bridged the end of the third and the beginning of the fourth with a 13 play, 56-yard drive, that ended with a 28-yard Allbaugh field goal.
The Panthers would turn the ball over on downs on their next possession, but they got a break when Tyrone Cromwell intercepted a pass that put the Panthers in business at the Lenoir-Rhyne 21. Unfortunately, it would end with another turnover on downs with6:06 to go. It was the Panthers last best chance to score.
Chmelik would end his day completing 14-of-35 passes for 212 yards, two touchdowns, and three interceptions. Haynes ran the ball eight times for 34 yards and ended his senior season with 841 yards. Guerrier caught three passes for 116 yards and a TD. He finished with 59 catches, 1,062 yards and a school record 13 receiving touchdowns in 2018.
Senior Jimmy Hinel finished with a career-high 10 tackles in this game, while J.T. Hassell ended the day with 19, one away from his school record, set in week six against Mississippi College. He had 19 in week two in a win over Newberry. Hassell ended his senior season with 124 tackles.
For more info: Florida Tech @ Lenoir-Rhyne Box Score
With the 2018 season now in the books, Englehart took a second to thank the fans.
“We appreciate all of their support and everything that they’ve done for Panther Nation and Florida Tech Football,” he said. “Can’t thank them enough for coming to the games and listening. We’ll be back next year and we’ll keep putting out the best product we can. This is still a relatively young program, six years old and I can’t believe it’s going into year seven, we’ve had some success and some really good years.”
We at Sports Lowdown would like to thank coach Englehart for all the interviews and the time he spent with us throughout the season to help us bring you the best coverage possible. Thank you to the Sports Information Department, including Daniel Supraner. Thank you to Jerry Durney of WFIT and Alan Zlotorzynski of Space Coast Daily for all their help throughout the season.
We look forward to doing it all again in 2019.