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Panthers fall 38-14 as Argonauts reclaim Coastal Classic Trophy
MELBOURNE, Fla. – The Florida Tech football team was unable to build much momentum in its Coastal Classic matchup with GSC rival No. 20 West Florida on Saturday as they were defeated 38-14 at Panther Stadium.
An extended weather delay during the first quarter along with a strong performance from the visiting Argonauts dampened Tech’s annual Homecoming Game and sent the Panthers to their fourth straight loss. This is the longest losing streak for Florida Tech since a five-game skid during the team’s inaugural season in 2013.
It is the Argonauts’ third win in the first four games of the rivalry. The 24 points were the largest margin of victory in the series.
The game started on the wrong foot for the Panthers as their opening drive ended after four plays after Trent Chmelik had his pass intercepted on the UWF 12-yard line.
The Argos looked like they would turn the miscue into points but a big interception by Cornelius Doe in the end zone gave the Panthers back the ball. The pick-off was the first of Doe’s career.
Four plays later, the Argos picked off another one of Chmelik’s throws. This time the pass hit a receiver in the chest, bounced in the air and got picked off by a West Florida defender, who returned it to the Tech 14.
UWF turned that chance into points as Austin Reed found Tate Lehtio for a four-yard touchdown with 4:26 left in the first quarter.
Following that touchdown, the skies opened up on Panther Stadium. Torrential downpour and lightning littered the area around the field causing a one hour and 20-minute delay in action as the teams and fans scattered for cover from the conditions.
Once play resumed, each team was unable to make much of their ensuing possessions. On Tech’s second possession since the delay, the Panthers fumbled the ball on their own 18 yard-line setting the Argos up in the red zone.
UWF responded with more points off turnovers as Austin Williams connected on a 25-yard field goal to put the Argos up 10-0 with 9:58 left in the second quarter.
However, it took less than a minute for the Crimson & Gray to answer as freshman phenom Mike Diliello broke away for a 91-yard touchdown run to bring Tech to within three points.
The rush by Diliello set a new school record for the longest touchdown run in program history, smashing the previous record of 85 yards set by Gary Holmes in 2016 against Mississippi College.
It looked as though the Panthers were taking the momentum at this point but a muffed punt by Max Erdman was recovered by UWF on the Tech 33, setting up the Argos with another short field. West Florida turned it into points again as Austin Reed ran it in for a one-yard touchdown to put his team up 17-7 at the 4:30 mark of the second quarter.
UWF then scored two plays into the second half as Shomari Mason ran it in from 61 yards out. On the Argos next possession, Reed hit Kevin Grant for a 65-yard touchdown reception to build their lead to 31-7 with 11:48 to go in the quarter.
The Panthers had an extensive 15-play, 82-yard drive on their next opportunity, which ended in a seven-yard touchdown from Diliello to Kenny Hiteman to make the score 31-14 with 5:50 remaining in the third.
The Argos answered with a 14-play, 75-yard possession that ended in a two-yard touchdown run by Jaden Gardner with 14:54 left in regulation, ending the scoring for the afternoon at 38-14.
Tech was unable to find much consistency in its few remaining drives and time eventually ran out on the Panthers’ chances at a comeback.
UWF out-gained Florida Tech, 396-384, in the contest. The Panthers mustered more rushing yards, 197-172, but struggled in the passing game going a combined 17-of-37 for 187 yards, two interceptions and a touchdown.
Chmelik got the start for the Panthers and went 4-of-12 for 82 yards and two picks while Diliello went 13-of-25 for 105 yards and a score. Diliello also finished the game with 136 rushing yards and a touchdown. The freshman’s rushing total broke his own school record for yards by a quarterback in a single game in program history.
Corey Lane added up 35 yards on the ground and Drezyn Parson picked up 29 rushing yards, both on seven carries each.
The Panthers were limited through the air because of the great defensive performance by the Argos on the back end. Damien McGhee was able to gain 69 receiving yards on a game-high eight catches. Buck Watkins had two receptions for 28 yards while Brian Spurgeon also had two catches for 27 yards. Daniel Richardson had the longest reception for Tech, hauling in a 34-yarder on the first play of the game.
Evan Thompson led the Panther defense with 12 tackles including seven solo stops and a tackle for loss. John McClure had eight total tackles in the game, pushing him past the 100-career tackle mark. Tyrone Cromwell recorded seven tackles, while Thierry Lafortune finished with six stops.
Florida Tech will now look to rebound from this loss to its rival and get back to winning ways when the Panthers host GSC foe West Alabama next Saturday, Nov. 2. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. at Panther Stadium.
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