MELBOURNE, Fla. — A 48-yard interception return for a touchdown by Florida Tech’s Richard Leveill and three missed field goals by Newberry proved to be the difference in a 17-10 defeat on Saturday afternoon.
The Wolves (0-2) trailed 10-3 following a 31-yard FIT (2-0) field goal nearly six minutes into the second half. Newberry drove near midfield, but on a short third down play Leveill snuffed out a delayed screen pass and rumbled through tacklers into the end zone to stretch the Panthers’ lead to 14.
Newberry was plagued by poor starting field position throughout the second half but did put together a 92-yard drive to pull within a touchdown. The Wolves needed 11 plays and 6:32 off the clock to find the end zone, turning to Dre Harris and Voshon St. Hill for the bulk of the yardage on the drive.
St. Hill had 35 yards on the possession, none more important than the final two that gave Newberry its only touchdown of the day on the final play of the third quarter. Harris ran for 21 yards and passed for 35 more. The redshirt freshman was forced into action by an injury to starting quarterback Greg Ruff.
“Dre came in last week to get his first reps ever,” said Head Coach Todd Knight. “He struggled at times and did some good things at times. He did the same thing this week. At times he looked really good but at times he looked like a freshman.”
The St. Hill touchdown could have given Newberry the lead if not for its struggles in the kicking game. Newberry had a field goal blocked, pushed a long attempt wide to the right, and had a would-be career-long 46-yard attempt by Kevin Weber sail inches beyond the upright that many in scarlet and gray thought was true.
Shea Rodgers finally got the Wolves on the board with a 34-yard field goal as time expired in the first half to trim the Panthers’ lead to 7-3. Florida Tech had taken a 7-0 lead on a 14-yard pass from Trent Chmelik to Romell Guerrier late in the second quarter, but had missed a field goal attempt of their own in the opening stanza.
Newberry had an opportunity to drive for a potential game-tying score in the final moments after a big stop by the Wolves’ defense near midfield. Catriez Cook was able to get out of bounds after a short gain on first down from the Wolves’ 27, then Markell Castle was stopped a yard short of the line to gain. Harris rushed for no gain to set up a final play, which was derailed by a high snap to turn the ball over on downs.
The seven-point margin marked Newberry’s seventh loss by eight or fewer points since the final game of the 2016 season.
“I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for supporting us, supporting these kids, supporting this program,” Knight said of the swaths of scarlet and gray-clad fans that roasted in the central Florida heat to support the Wolves and the Newberry faithful back home. “Stick with us: we’re going to turn it around.”
Newberry returns to Setzler Field next Saturday for a nonconference matchup with Virginia University of Lynchburg, a team the Wolves defeated 55-7 a season ago. Kickoff is set for 1:00 p.m.
Newberry limited the Panthers to 19 rushing yards on 27 carries, the lowest rushing output by a Newberry opponent since the 2010 season opener, when Livingstone was held to -39 yards on 32 carries in a 55-0 Newberry triumph. The Wolves out gained FIT 265-230 but were 1-for-11 on third downs and misfired on both fourth-down attempts.
Markell Castle was limited to 17 yards on three receptions but still eclipsed former standout Darryl Owings (1984-86) for the fifth-most receiving yards in school history. Castle now has 1,892 yards in his career.
Dre Harris was Newberry’s leading rusher with 58 yards on the ground. He also threw for 75 yards on eight completions. Neither Harris, Greg Ruff, nor Florida Tech’s Trent Chmelik was sacked. Chmelik went 18-for-24 for 211 yards and a score.
Joe Blue led the Wolves with nine tackles, including eight solo efforts, to give him 29 stops on the year. Jamarcus Henderson had a pair of tackles for loss accounting for 18 yards. The Panthers’ J.T. Hassell led all players with 19 tackles.