The Mississippi College Choctaws earned their first win over the Florida Tech Panthers on Saturday, beating the Panthers 34-14 at Robinson-Hale Stadium. The loss evened the Panthers record at 3-3. They are 1-2 in the Gulf South Conference.
“If you take off the first series and the last series where they just ran out the clock, I actually thought we did pretty good,” said Panthers head coach Steve Englehart during his postgame interview with Jerry Durney on WFIT.
The triple-option that Mississippi College runs netted them 271 rushing yards and allowed them to almost double Florida Tech’s time of possession, holding the ball for 39:51.
Jaylin Jones got the Choctaws on the board on their first drive with a six-yard touchdown. He had over 100 yards in the first quarter alone and ended up with 126 for the game.
Mississippi College (3-3) missed a field goal early in the second quarter, but Panthers quarterback Mike Diliello was picked off on the Panthers’ first play of the ensuing possession. Scott Arnold would recover a fumble for the Panthers, keeping the Choctaws from adding to their lead.
They would do just that with 13 seconds left in the half, when quarterback Detric Hawthorn found Cole Rotenberry from six yards out, giving MC a 14-0 lead.
After a kickoff out of bounds allowed the Panthers to start at their own 35. Diliello found Damien McGhee for a 22-yard completion, setting up one last play with nine seconds left. Diliello threw it 43 yards into the end zone, and it bounced off a Choctaws defender who mistimed his jump and the ball went to McGhee for the Hail Mary touchdown, making it 14-7 Mississippi College at the break.
McGhee had five catches for 92 yards, all of them coming in the first half.
“Gotta give a lot of credit to Mississippi College,” said Englehart. “They ran a totally different defense than what we’ve seen on film. We made our adjustments, but we only got three or four possessions in the first half and one was a pick on the first play and another was a two-play drive to get a Hail Mary at the end.”
Florida Tech got the ball to start the second half, and Derrick Wright had a big return to the Panthers 44. Two consecutive facemask penalties getting deep into Choctaws territory. The drive would end with Diliello taking it himself from six yards out, and just like that, it was 14-14.
Just when the Panthers seemed to have the momentum, Hawthorn hit Rotenberry on a 3rd-and-7 with a 66-yard bomb, and the home team was back in front, 20-14. Tyrone Cromwell blocked his first of two extra points and the Panthers were down six.
“They threw a seam down the middle and we just don’t have coverage there,” said Englehart. “We’re supposed to have a post safety there and he rolled the wrong way, and we give them a score right there. That was a big one.”
With 6:03 left in the third quarter, Diliello threw another pick and was slow to get up. Trent Chmelik, who was scheduled to get some time under center anyway, came in and completed one of two passes, as he saw his first action since the second game of the season against Newberry.
Diliello would return to the game and finish 8-of-18 for 167 yards and three interceptions.
The Choctaws would turn that interception into a touchdown, and the two-point conversion was good making it 28-14. Rotenberry would score his third touchdown of the night on a trick-play, following a Panthers fumble and it was 34-14.
Mississippi College would get the ball back and run the final 7:07 off the clock.
“We took one on the chin. I thought our guys played hard and they wanted it, they had the right attitude,” Englehart said. “I have a different feeling after this game than what I did after last week for sure. It was just one of those things that Mississippi College had our number, and they just beat us.”
Injury news: Wide receiver Dez Morgan was hurt on the first series and did not return. Diliello should be okay according to Englehart. He did come back into the game but was not 100%.
For more info: Florida Tech @ Mississippi College Box Score
This loss puts the Panthers up against the wall as far as their playoff chances are concerned. They are now looking at having to win out to have a realistic chance and that starts next week against the defending Division II champions, Valdosta State.
The Blazers have won 21 straight games and the Panthers will look to break that streak when the game kicks off at 3:00 p.m. at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium.