No.22 West Florida football defeats West Alabama on senior night, makes playoff berth
by Christian Skewes
Saturday, November 16 the UWF football team defeated the West Alabama Tigers in a 48-37 shootout. This victory also marks the final regular season home game for the Argos and the fourth time these two squads have faced each other.
Coming into the game West Florida (8-2 GSC 7-1) was looking to defend its home turf and bounce back from their loss against Valdosta State. The Tigers (6-5 GSC 3-5) were coming off of a home game win against Mississippi College and tried to keep the momentum going into this week.
The Argos received the opening kickoff and managed to move the ball down the field. Solid gains made by running backs Anthony Johnson and Shomari Mason pushed the UWF offense into West Alabama’s side of the field early in the first quarter.
On the Tiger’s 27-yard line, freshman quarterback Austin Reed would connect with senior wide receiver Quentin Randolph for the first touchdown of the game. Improving the score 7-0 UWF with 11:07 left in the first quarter.
Now on offense, West Alabama would answer with a likewise impressive offensive drive. Able to mix in run and pass plays unexpectedly, the Tigers would wind up in the red zone after a 19 yard rush by running back Derrick Underwood.
The West Florida defense would stand tall and stop a run play and a play-action pass on first and second down, leaving UWA in a third and long situation.
Tiger quarterback Jack McDaniel’s would find wide receiver Christian Saulsberry in the middle of the field to tie the game, 7-7, with less than 9 minutes left in the quarter.
And that’s how the rest of the game went up until halftime, back and forth scoring by both teams complemented by competitive/physical gameplay. At the end of the second quarter the score was 27-24 UWF.
Now in the second half, West Alabama would receive the quarter opening kickoff and start their next offensive drive on their 37-yard line. Emphasizing on the run this time, the Tigers would march down the field and end up in the red zone early on.
However, the UWF defense would answer the call and hold them to a field goal, tying the score 27-27 with 10:05 left in the third.
The Argos would score on their next offensive drive with a 13-yard touchdown reception by wide receiver Rodney Coates, 34-27 UWF.
West Alabama would start their next drive with a little over five minutes left in the third. Big pass plays made by McDaniels would set UWA up in a position to score once again.
However, on a third and goal play on the UWF one-yard line, Argo defensive lineman Matthew Gotel would force a fumble (later recovered by defensive lineman Daryl Wilson) and change possession for his team; leaving the Tigers with a scoreless drive for the first time the whole game.
Both teams then went back and forth with scoring offensive possessions, leaving the score 48-37 UWF with 1:34 left in the fourth quarter. On the final drive of the game, UWA would find success in the passing game with McDaniels once again.
The Tigers would then take a timeout with seven seconds left on the clock. Next, on a first and 10 passing play on the UWF 29 yard line, defensive back De’Mareyae Givens would intercept McDaniel’s pass and return it 69 yards down to Argo 31 yard line, ending regulation.
“For us it was just fun,” Reed said. “Especially as an offense, we love to put together a game like that and really help our defense out. Really all year they have been so strong so for us to get in the one game where they needed help and go out and do it was special.”
Offensively speaking, UWF amassed 544 yards of total offense, 101 rushing yards and 443 yards through the air. This unit also managed to put up 27 first downs and had multiples players with more than three receptions.
Randolph and Tate Lehtio were the leading receivers for the game. Randolph had eight receptions for 171 yards and three touchdowns. Lehtio put up six receptions for 62 yards, with his longest of the night going for 19 yards.
“It’s probably the best football game I have had in my 18 years playing football. It was phenomenal,” Randolph said. “On senior night and magnitude like this on win or go home. This game meant a lot to me.”
Randolph continued, “After how we performed last week at Valdosta, it was pretty awesome to see us explode like this. I think this is the only game the defense hasn’t carried us. To be able to flip the script was pretty awesome.”
The Argo running game had another solid performance to add to their totals. Johnson would finish the game with 48 rushing yards and a touchdown on 13 attempts, averaging about four yards each carry.
On the other side of the ball, the West Florida defense had their hands full trying to stop the Tiger offense. Despite allowing 35 first downs and giving up 547 yards of total offense, the defense made multiple critical goal line stands forcing UWA to kick a field goal twice.
Ultimately, these stops on defense are what helped the Argos walk away with a victory.
Redshirt sophomore Chanler Ferguson was the ring leader for the defense, amassing 10 total tackles (seven solo and three assisted) and one and a half tackles for loss. Redshirt junior Henry Montgomery put up eight total tackles (five solo and three assisted) and an interception.
Now with a current 8-2 record with only one loss against in-conference opponents, the West Florida football team is looking forward to making a run to the playoffs once again. Sunday at 4 p.m. on a NCAA selection show UWF will figure out who they’ll be facing for the first round of the 2019 Division II playoffs.
“We have been in a playoff mode these last couple weeks,” Lehtio said. “The vision is coming true; we always talked about what it could be and what it had potential to do. To see it happen is just incredible.”
Photo courtesy of Morgan Givens