The Florida Tech Panthers suffered their first loss of the season Saturday night, as the Delta State defense shut the Panthers down in the last minute and a half, en route to a 30-28 home victory over the Panthers.
“Unfortunately, we couldn’t block their defensive ends there in the last series to try to get a two-minute drive to get a field goal to get a field goal for the win,” said Panthers head coach Steve Englehart in his post-game interview with WFIT’s Jerry Durney.
Redshirt freshman Mike Diliello made his first career start in place of the injured Trent Chmelik. All Diliello did was set a Panther record for yardage in a debut, throwing for 309 yards on 17-of-29 passing.
“He played extremely tough — he stood in there and took some hits,” said Englehart of his quarterback. “He completed balls and ran the ball well. I wasn’t that surprised that he would play well, I’ve been seeing it since the start of camp.”
He had a favorite target in this one in the person of Miles Kelly, who set a single-game receiving record with his 217 yards on eight catches. Kelly now has 14 catches for 369 yards in three games.
“I’ve believed in Miles Kelly ever since he first came here,” Englehart said. “Last year I thought we probably should’ve played him more, probably should’ve found more roles for him because he’s dynamic and does a lot of great stuff for us.”
Delta State (2-1, 1-0 GSC) got five field goals from Taylor Crabtree on this night, as he hit from 28, 24, 33, 31, and 38 yards.
With the Statesmen up 7-0, Diliello hit Kelly for 45 yards and then finished the drive himself with an 11-yard touchdown run, tying the game with 8:31 left in the first quarter.
Crabtree’s first field goal of the night came on the next DSU drive, and they led 10-7 at the end of the opening stanza. Crabtree would hit again to start the second quarter, expanding the home teams lead to 13-7.
Diliello and Kelly connected again on the Panthers next drive for 32 yards. Running back Daniel Richardson finished that drive with a nine-yard scamper and the Panthers went up 14-13 with 9:24 to go in the half.
Crabtree’s 33-yarder with 3:56 to go in the half put the Statesmen up 16-14, and they would hold that lead as the game went to the half.
The Panthers (2-1, 0-1 GSC) second drive of the second half started with a penalty against DSU. On the next play, Diliello hit Kelly in stride, and Kelly bobbled the ball a few times before gaining control and running for a 72-yard score, giving the Panthers a 21-16 lead with 10:14 left in the third.
Another Crabtree field goal about five minutes later closed the gap to 21-19. After the Panthers went three-and-out, Delta State’s Leon Green ran a jet sweep for a 14-yard score, giving the home team a 27-21 lead.
The Panthers would retake the lead on their first possession of the fourth quarter. Diliello would find Kelly for 46 yards early in the drive, giving Kelly the record-setting yardage.
Damien McGhee got open later in the drive, scoring a 17-yard touchdown and giving the Panthers a 28-27 lead with 11:40 to go in the game. The last Crabtree field goal of the night would come on the ensuing drive, and DSU went up 30-28 with 8:15 left.
Florida Tech had two more chances, but both possessions started at their own 25 and the Statesmen defense stiffened when they needed it, holding on for the victory.
For more info: Florida Tech @ Delta State Box Score
The Panthers were outgained 491-381, as DSU had 284 yards on the ground. They also held a huge advantage in time of possession, 36:31 to 23:29.
The Panthers will open their home schedule next week, hosting GSC foe West Georgia, who was upset by Albany State on Saturday night. The opening kickoff is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. at Florida Tech Panther Stadium.