Melbourne, FL—North Greenville piled on 394-yards of total offense while the defense held Florida Tech under its season scoring average in a 27-13 win over the Panthers in the first round of the NCAA Division II Playoffs.
The Crusaders had little trouble producing on the offensive side of the ball on Saturday, running for 144-yards on 37-attempts. The three-headed attack of Heard, Scott, and Jackson averaged 3.9-yards a carry against a Panther defense that allowed just over 80-yards per game on the ground. Scott led the attack with 126-yards on 19-carries with a touchdown.
The Panthers put together a solid day in numbers, but NGU’s defense came up with big plays in key spots. The Panthers finished with 353-yards in total but scored just one touchdown as the Crusaders held them to just 3 of 12 on third down with three interceptions. Brandon Burger led the defense with 13-tackles while Matthew Thomas had 9-tackles and a big quarterback sack to stop a Florida Tech Drive.
The First half saw the two offenses put up some solid numbers with little to show for it on the scoreboard. The Crusaders gained a 3-0 lead with 1:06 left in the first quarter. FIT tacked on their own field goal in the second quarter to even the score with 11:52 remaining in the first half. Both offenses would threaten in the final minutes of the second quarter but the defenses held on to keep the score deadlocked at halftime.
The Panthers opened the second half with the ball but a big interception on third down as Brandon Burger set up the North Greenville offense 1st and 10 on the Florida Tech 29 with the game’s first turnover. Tracy Scott would cash in two plays later with a four-yard score and the game’s first touchdown.
FIT would put together its second scoring drive of the day on the ensuing possession tacking on a second field goal to cut North Greenville’s lead to 10-6. The field goal capped a 12-play, 43-yard drive for the Panthers, but left the door open for the Crusaders to take a two-possession lead with 6:25 left in the third quarter.
North Greenville’s offense also came up with big plays in key situations, and the next drive for NGU was no different. NGU answered the Tech touchdown with a 10-play drive that marched the Crusaders 74-yards for the second touchdown of the game. The Crusaders converted on two third downs including a 3rd and 13 to keep the drive alive. Will Hunter hooked up with Ashton Heard for 22-yards on a screen pass to give NGU a first down. NGU would convert on another third and long later in the drive before Javon Smith took a swing pass from Hunter 13-yards to the end zone to extend the lead to 17-6.
The Crusaders would add another field goal in the fourth quarter as Matt Gravely’s second field goal of the day gave NGU a 20-6 lead. The field goal capitalized on NGU’s second interception of the day as KJ McDonald picked off a Ryan Singer pass in the end zone. North Greenville’s once comfortable lead was cut to just one score on FIT’s next drive. The Panthers hit their biggest play of the day as Antwuan Haynes took a pass 53-yards to the 15-yard line. The Panthers would score six plays later to pull to within seven points (20-13).
North Greenville took over with 4:28 left in the game, looking to drain the clock. NGU’s offense would come up big once again on a key third down. Will Hunter, who threw for 250-yards on Saturday, picked up his second touchdown through the air as he found Javon Smith for the second time, this time from 53-yards. The touchdown capped 4-play drive that covered 75-yards to give NGU a 27-13 lead.
The Panthers started their next drive with 2:34 left in the game and marched 33-yards on six plays, looking to cut the lead to one possession. NGU’s Nigel Gay would put the game on ice though with North Greenville’s third interception of the game, halting the FIT drive and ending the hopes of a late comeback.
The Crusaders were one of two independent schools to win their first round game on Saturday as UNC Pembroke downed Valdosta State of the Gulf South Conference 24-21. Both NGU and Pembroke were lower seeds. Tuskegee also pulled off the upset in the first round as it upset second-seeded Newberry of the South Atlantic Conference 35-33.
North Greenville and Tuskegee will play next Saturday, November 26th with site and time to be determined.