The Florida Tech Panthers ran roughshod over the Mississippi College Choctaws on Saturday night. scoring an impressive 41-0 victory in the home opener at Florida Tech Panther Stadium. It was the second shutout in school history for the Panthers and their second-largest margin of victory.
The last time the Panthers shut out an opponent was back on September 19, 2015, beating Warner 37-0.
“Whenever you can pitch a shutout on the defensive side, it makes things a lot easier,” said Panthers coach Steve Englehart after the game. “When you hold teams to zero, obviously you’re gonna win the game. Proud of our defense for doing that.”
He continued, “I like the fact that our guys on defense were hungry and wanted to do that. It’s hard to hold people to zero nowadays in the game of football, so when you can do it, I think it’s something special.”
After Mississippi College stalled on their first drive, the Panthers got right to work. They needed just five plays, highlighted by a 52-yard run to the end zone by Sophomore Antwuan Haynes, putting the home team up 6-0, with the point after by Junior kicker Zachary Leatherman.
The Panthers’ second quarter didn’t get off to a great start, with Haynes fumbling a punt, giving the Choctaws the ball inside the 25-yard line. The Panthers’ defense that struggled at times against Newberry giving up some big plays, clamped down and kept the Choctaws out of the end zone.
“When I dropped that punt, I was sagging over there,” said Haynes. “I didn’t want them to score and I knew it would be on me if they got seven, so I was happy when they didn’t.”
The next Panther possession included a big pass from quarterback Mark Cato to Kenny Johnston for 48 yards taking the ball all the way down to the Choctaws 24-yard line. Three plays later, Trevor Sand ran it in from 10 yards out, making it a 14-0 game.
Johnston, with the help of that long gainer, finished with three catches, for 87 yards, and was the Panthers leading receiver.
Mississippi College picked up a first down on their ensuing drive, but it was short-circuited when Henry Montgomery picked off a pass over the middle by MSC Senior QB Sharone Wright, with 9:45 left in the half. Running back Gary Holmes got a big chunk of yardage on the first play, picking up 21 yards. It was just one big play in what turned out to be a big night for him.
On a 3rd-and-7 play on the same drive, Cato pitched it to Haynes who did the rest, going 28 yards for the score. That put Florida Tech up 21-0, with 7:34 remaining in the first half. The Choctaws turned the ball over again on their next possession, this time with a fumble.
Haynes had nine carries for 116 yards and two TD’s, to lead the Panthers rushing attack.
The Panthers put together a nice drive, with Johnston catching a 27-yard pass and Sand finishing things off with a 26-yard scoring run, to put the Panthers up 28-0, with 3:04 left.
The Panthers defense stepped up again on Mississippi’s next drive, their final one before the half, picking up their second sack of the night, this one by Adonis Davis, with 17.3 seconds left. Wright threw a deep pass to the end zone as time expired, but it was knocked away.
The Panthers’ second drive of the second half was probably their most impressive. It was a nice mix of run and pass, including a 19-yard throw on 3rd-and-4, to Wayne Saunders II, early in the drive.
Haynes picked up a first down later in the drive on 4th-and-1 and topped that when he caught a 20-yard pass, that included a couple of nice spin moves, getting the ball to the 25-yard line.
Cato used his legs to get the ball to the 3-yard line on a designed quarterback keeper and after a penalty moved the Panthers back to the 18, Cato passed to Saunders for a gain of three and on the next play, Cato took matters into his own hands.
He took off running and beat the defense up front, but he had tacklers waiting in the backfield, so as he got to within a couple of yards of the end zone, he went airborne and somersaulted his way to seven points. The two-point conversion was no good, but the Panthers held a convincing 34-0 lead.
That run capped a 46-yard rushing night for Cato, to go along with his 8-for-13, 148-yard night through the air.
When asked if Cato’s jump made him nervous, Englehart answered quickly, “Yes. Why did he have to do that,” he said. “Just slide out of bounds at the one-yard line and we’ll hand it off to Trevor or somebody, to get it in. He’s a competitor and he wanted to get it in, so I told him congratulations and he just earned himself on the bench for the rest of the game.”
Of course, that was said jokingly, you can do that when you win by 41. Obviously, Englehart had a lot of praise for Cato on this night. “His maturity level has reached a new height this year,” Englehart said. “He’s really seeing the game and the game is slowing down for him. He’s making the checks we’re asking him to make and he controlled the game and managed the game.”
The final touchdown of the night was a big one, as Holmes broke an 85-yard run to start the fourth quarter. With that, he broke the school record for the longest touchdown run. Holmes ended the night with 111 yards on six carries, with one TD. The Panthers ran for 368 yards on 40 carries as a team and scored six touchdowns on the ground.
Losing wide receivers Terrance Bynum and Romell Guerrier following last week’s victory, the thought was that the team would rely heavily on the run game. They did that, but according to Englehart, it wasn’t necessarily by design.
“I don’t know that we relied on the run game, but we were really good at it tonight and we didn’t have to pass the ball as much, he said. “We’re gonna have to get those other receivers ready to play, because at some point in the year, we’re gonna have to throw the ball 35-40 times to win a football game and hopefully those guys will step up.”
For more info: Mississippi College @ FL Tech box score
This was a big win for Florida Tech, as it was a Gulf South Conference victory. They will try to get another one next Saturday, against Shorter. The conference showdown will take place in Rome Georgia, with kickoff scheduled for 7:00 p.m.