The Florida Tech Panthers moved to 4-0 for the first time in school history, beating Division I FCS opponent Presbyterian on Saturday, 28-7.
As Florida Tech play-by-play man Jerry Durney noted, it is equivalent to a boxer stepping up a weight class. Sometimes the move up produces an upset and that was the case in this game, at least to those not associated with the Florida Tech football program.
The Panthers defense came into the game with shut outs in their last two games and for two and a half quarters, they were able to keep the Blue Hoes at bay. Coupled with the passing of Mark Cato and the play of their wide receivers, the Panthers controlled this game from the outset.
After the defense forced a three and out on the Blue Hose opening possession, Panthers coach Steve Englehart had defensive lineman Tevin Kirkland lined up as a wide receiver. Cato was able to find him down the field on the first offensive play, covering 36 yards and getting the Panthers to midfield.
Another pass to Wayne Saunders II later in the drive got the ball to the 3-yard line and two rushes from Trevor Sand got the ball in the end zone and put the Panthers up 7-0.
After another drive stalled for Presbyterian, they downed a punt at the one, forcing the Panthers to start from the shadow of their own goalposts. A replay showed that the ball went into the end zone, but it was missed by the officiating crew. Luckily for Florida Tech, it didn’t matter much, as Cato was able to find Kenny Johnston for 24 yards on the first play.
The drive didn’t result in points, but the Panthers were able to move the ball and after a punt, the Blue Hose started the next drive at their own 11. The Panthers defense came up with another stop and got the ball back with 34 seconds left in the quarter. Cato finished the quarter with 118 yards passing, while Presbyterian had just 74 total yards.
A three-and-out forced a Presbyterian punt on their first drive of the quarter and Panthers return man Antwuan Haynes ran up on a punt and fumbled, giving the ball back to the Blue Hose. The defense stepped up big for the Panther immediately, when Jo Jackson picked off John Walker, giving the Panthers the ball at their own 36. They weren’t able to do anything with the extra possession.
With 4:55 to go in the half, Cato was intercepted by Kenneth Coleman, setting the Blue Hose up at the 32 of Florida Tech. A holding call and an illegal block on consecutive plays took Presbyterian back to the 48-yard line and although they were able to eventually pick up a first down on third and a mile, the Panthers defense held and the home team was forced to try a 34-yard field goal, which was no good off the foot of Brett Norton.
On the ensuing drive, Cato and Haynes played a little pitch-and-catch, resulting in three short passes, that Haynes turned into decent gains. He went for 28 yards, 13 yards, and capped it off with a 39-yard catch-and-run, with a leap into the end zone. Just like that, the Panthers were on top 14-0, with 57 seconds left in the half. It was a three-play, 80-yard drive that took a scant 28 seconds off the clock. Presbyterian ran the clock out and went to the locker room down by 14 to the visiting Panthers.
Florida Tech got the ball to start the second half and put together a decent drive, highlighted by a 41-yard pass to Saunders that got the ball down to the Presbyterian 21. With the lead, Englehart decided to try a fake field goal, but the Blue Hose sniffed it out.
After the defense forced another three-and-out by the home team, Florida Tech started the drive at their own 18 with 10:52 to go in the third. Cato dropped back and threw a beauty of a pass to Johnston, who took it to the house and put the Panthers up 21-0.
Presbyterian (1-3) finally broke through on their next possession, putting together an eight-play, 86-yard drive, capped by a 10-yard pass from Will Brock to DaShawn Davis, making it a 21-7 ballgame.
The Blue Hose started the fourth quarter with the ball and was driving, with the ball at the FIT 28. Brock dropped back and let a pass fly, but Jackson was there again, jumping in front of the intended receiver and going 83 yards to the end zone, putting the underdog Panthers ahead 28-7, with 12:52 left.
Presbyterian put together a decent drive that started with 5:20 on the clock. They went 61 yards in 11 plays, but the drive stalled at the Florida Tech 4-yard line when they were forced to go for it on fourth down.
Ryan Singer came in for Cato to finish the last couple drives for the Panthers. It was significant to have Singer in the game, as he transferred to Florida Tech from Presbyterian and he was able to go back to his former school and finish off what was a big win for the Panthers program.
Cato finished 19-of-32 for 357 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Haynes was his leading receiver, catching seven for 119. Johnston finished with just two catches, but they were productive, to the tune of 106 yards. Saunders caught five for 84 yards.
Trevor Sand was the Panthers leading rusher, with just 37 yards. The Panthers only had 45 on the ground as a team, while the Blue Hose had 48.
For more info: Florida Tech @ Presbyterian Box Score
Stat of the night: Florida Tech got into the red zone only once in the game and still won by 21 points.
The Panthers road trip continues next week when they travel to West Florida, who is in their first year of existence. The game will be the first edition of the Coastal Classic and it begins at 7:00 p.m.