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Panthers Lose to Fort Valley State

Steve Englehart Postgame Interview Courtesy of 321Sportscast

The upset-minded Fort Valley State Wildcats scored with 4:49 left in regulation Saturday and hung on to beat Florida Tech 33-29 at Florida Tech Panther Stadium.

“We didn’t do the little things right,” said Panthers coach Steve Englehart. “We had penalties; we had missed assignments. I don’t know how many times we had defensive guys not in the right gap, and they were gashing us for big runs. It was a complete joke and they deserved to lose.”

Despite all they did wrong in this one, the Panthers were knocking on the door late in the game, as Freshman quarterback Mike Diliello had 52 of his 100 yards rushing on the final drive, but his pass to Damien McGhee fell incomplete just shy of the goal line and the Panthers turned it over on downs.

Trey Schaneville got the Panthers on the board first, hitting a chip-shot field goal 3:56 into the game.

The Panthers average starting field position was their 40-yard line, and Diliello took full advantage of starting at the 47 on the third drive of the night. He completed a pass to Corey Lane for 18 and D.J. Hampton carried the ball a couple of times, before Diliello punched it in from 1-yard out, making it 10-0.

Donny Rieber Jr | Sports Lowdown

Fort Valley State quarterback Slade Jarman capped the next Wildcats drive with a 10-yard run of his own, and it was 10-7, 57 seconds into the second quarter.

After the ensuing kickoff went out of bounds, Florida Tech started at their own 35. After a sack, he found McGhee for 13 yards, Miles Kelly for 15, and McGhee again for 19. After a penalty put the Panthers back to the 28, Diliello called his own number and scampered in to make it 17-7.

Fort Valley State then hit field goals on two consecutive drives, making it 17-13. Schaneville answered with a 40 yarder 18 seconds before the half, and the Panthers took a 20-13 lead into the break.

The Wildcats (3-2) got the ball to start the second half and put together a 10-play, 75-yard drive that culminated in a Jarman touchdown pass to Jeffery. The extra point was no good and the Panthers held a 20-19 lead with just over 10 minutes left in the quarter.

Florida Tech punted on their next possession and it looked like Fort Valley State was poised to score again on their next possession, but Ty Cromwell picked Jarman off at the 4-yard line and made a house call 96 yards later. That gave the Panthers a 26-19 lead. The extra point was blocked, and that would prove to be big.

The Panthers (3-2) started the fourth quarter with a Schaneville 31-yard field goal, making it 29-19, 35 seconds into the final stanza.

Jarman answered with another successful drive, cutting the Panthers lead to 29-26. Diliello was then intercepted by Mike Hicks on the Panthers’ next drive. They would force the Wildcats to punt on their next drive, but a hard run by Lane deep in FSV territory gained 13 yards but also resulted in a fumble. Hicks recovered at the Panthers 27. It took three plays for Jarman to find the end zone again, giving his team a 33-29 lead with 4:49 to go.

The Panthers went down fighting on that last drive and Diliello’s running put them in position to steal victory from the jaws of defeat, but with that missed extra point earlier, Florida Tech needed a touchdown and came up about 12 yards short.

As coach Englehart said during his postgame press conference, this was a game the Panthers should have won. Unfortunately, turnovers and missed opportunities put the Panthers behind the eight ball most of the night.

For more info: Fort Valley State @ Florida Tech Box Score

Things don’t get any easier next week, as the Panthers get back into Gulf South Conference play against Mississippi College. The game will kickoff at 8:00 p.m. from Robison-Hale Stadium in Clinton, MS.