VALDOSTA, Ga. – Florida Tech limited No. 1 Valdosta State to just 71 yards of total offense in the first half, but Valdosta State pulled away in the second half to win 52-14 Saturday afternoon at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium. The Panthers are now 1-4 overall and 0-3 in the Gulf South Conference, while the Blazers remain unbeaten at 4-0, 2-0 GSC.
FIT’s defense played superbly in the first two quarters, holding its counterpart to eight rushing yards on 13 carries and 63 passing yards. It also had one interception, recovered one fumble, notched three sacks and had five tackles for a loss of 44 yards. On third down plays, the Blazers were 0-for-7.
The two big plays Valdosta State had were a 62-yard punt return by Willie Downs with 13:49 left in the first quarter and a 56-yard fumble recovery by Tevin Davis with 10:40 to play in the second quarter. Despite those two plays, FIT held the upper-hand in total offense, 94-71, time of possession, 18:26 to 11:34, and it committed four fewer penalties for 50 fewer yards.
“Valdosta State did the things we needed to do in order to win the game,” head coachSteve Englehart said. “They had a punt return and a defensive score in the first half. We still went into the locker room 17-0. Those plays just can’t happen. We were right there against the No. 1 team in the country and were feeling good about the way our defense played. Our defense played really well against their quarterback and got hits against him. They really took away a lot of their passing game.”
In the second half, the Blazers found success on the ground where they scored four of their five touchdowns. Two were on big runs as Cedric O’Neal worked loose for a 63-yard touchdown run and then Austin Scott found the end zone from 72 yards out.
“Other than a couple real long runs, I thought our defense played really well,” Englehart said. “Unfortunately, the score doesn’t show that because we gave them 21 points in the offense and special teams phases of the game. Offensively, we probably played against the best defense in the country. We just couldn’t get in any type of rhythm. We had three and out, three and out. It’s hard to call plays when you have three and outs. You need to get into some rhythm, get first downs on second down and move the chains.”
Aaron George hauled in a 13-yard pass fromDan Masteller for FIT’s first touchdown at the 3:01 mark of the third quarter. The touchdown was the first Valdosta State allowed in 169 minutes and 37 seconds. Fort Valley State was the last team to score a touchdown against the Blazers on Sept. 7.
Masteller delivered one more touchdown pass, this time toDaniel Fernandez with 31 seconds remaining. He finished 8-for-11 for 110 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. StarterBobby Vega was 12-for-26 for 72 yards and had one interception.
Gabe Hughes led the Panthers with six catches for 43 yards.Trevor Sand rushed 17 times for 68 yards.
J.J. Sanders had a team-high nine tackles. He also had one tackle for a loss and forced one fumble. The Panthers finished the game with three sacks after totaling two sacks in their first four games.
The Panthers will step out of Gulf South Conference play for their last of three straight road games next Saturday, Oct. 12 at Ave Maria. Kickoff against the Gyrenes is set for 1 p.m. ET.
“We need to keep plugging away and keep getting better,” Englehart said. “We just faced three really good football teams over the last three weeks. We need to keep our head up and understand there is a process we need to go through. We’re close and I’m tired of saying we’re close all the time and saying ‘if this,’ ‘if that.’ If we can get both sides of the ball clicking together, I think we can be really good.”
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