NEWBERRY, South Carolina – Florida Tech drove down the field late and had a chance to score the go-ahead touchdown with less than two minutes remaining, but Newberry’s Latavious Williams sacked Bobby Vega on 4th-and-5 to preserve a 23-19 win Saturday afternoon at Setzler Field.
The loss, FIT’s first of its inaugural season, drops the Panthers to 1-1. Newberry remains unbeaten at 2-0.
The Panther defense forced two fumbles and two interceptions. The first interception, hauled in by Trai Cadore inside FIT’s goal line, was returned for a 100-yard touchdown. The score gave FIT a 13-7 lead heading into the locker room at halftime.
FIT’s offense, although it didn’t commit a turnover, was held to 231 yards. Its run game, which totaled 206 yards in its first-ever game exactly one week ago, accumulated 75 yards.
“I don’t think there’s been very many times that I’ve been part of a game where we don’t turn the ball over, our defense gets four takeaways and scores a touchdown, and we lose,” head coach Steve Englehart said. “Percentages and odds say that you don’t lose that game. It’s disappointing. We deserved to win the game. Our kids played extremely, extremely hard. Their coaches were very complementary in how we played.”
Newberry scored a pair of touchdowns in the third quarter to go up 21-13. Trevor Sand helped break a string of three-straight three and outs with a 16-yard touchdown run with 9:13 remaining in the fourth quarter.
On the ensuing possession, Newberry looked to be going for a first down on 4th-and-10 from FIT’s 30 until a false start sent out the punting unit. Kyle Clark pinned the Panthers at their seven following a 28-yard punt.
Vega was then sacked for a safety on the third play of the following drive to make the score 23-19.
The defense stood tall one final time to give the offense an opportunity for a late score. The Panthers methodically moved the ball and appeared to be in a good position with a 3rd-and-5 on Newberry’s 16-yard line. However, Vega’s pass intended for Aaron George was incomplete and Williams ended the Panthers’ hopes with a sack on fourth down.
“It hurts when you’re that close and know that you had that many chances,” Englehart said. “Our field position hurt us. (Davis) Fluker caught the kickoff and stepped out of bounds. He’s young, he made a mistake and he’ll learn from it. We were just backed up a lot and the defense had to play in their territory a lot. If you look at it, I would guess their average starting field position was around midfield. Our average starting field position was probably inside the 15-yard line.”
Chris Stapleton led the defense with 13 tackles. Justin Arcune forced one of the fumbles and Steven Thomas came up with the game’s second interception. Stapleton and Tyler Grow both had two tackles for a loss.
“We played hard-nosed football,” Cadore said about the defense. “Everyone did their assignments, stayed humbled and hungry throughout the game. We had four defensive turnovers. You can’t get any better than that. We need to stay hungry and continue to have the passion to win.”
“I knew the quarterback was going to throw that pass,” he said about his touchdown interception return. “I bit on it and it was right in front of me. All I then saw was the end zone.”
Vega finished 9-of-19 with 99 passing yards. Sand carried the ball 14 times for 64 yards. Jarvis Giles averaged eight yards per carry on four touches. Newberry’s defensive line held the Panthers to an average 2.1 yards per rushing attempt.
“They were good upfront in their defensive line like we thought they would be,” Englehart said. “We learned a lot about our team and what kind of team we have. They’re tough, they’re resilient. We need to simplify some things on offense and get back to basics. We had our chances. I know we were one play away from winning that football game. When you’re that close it stings.”
The Panthers have a short week ahead as they will host defending Gulf South Conference Champion West Alabama in a nationally televised game on CBS Sports Network Thursday at 8 p.m. ET at Palm Bay High School’s Pirate Stadium. As of Friday, over 1,000 single-game general admission tickets were available for the GSC opener for both teams.
Tickets are just $10 for adults and $5 for FIT faculty and staff with school ID, seniors ages 65 and above, children ages 5-16 and active duty military with ID. Children under five years of age are free. Tickets can be purchased online at FloridaTechSports.com, by dialing 321-674-6228 and at the Clemente Center Ticket Office Monday-Friday from 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
This story was supplied to Brevard Times by Ryan Jones, Assistant Athletic Director for Athletic Communications at FIT.