Another chapter in the history of University of West Florida football was written Saturday night, and years from now, the chapter will be worth re-reading.
It unfolded in front of a raucous sellout crowd on a beautiful night on the bayfront in Pensacola. The moment was full of excitement, the energy evident among the players as they charged the field through a cloud of smoke still lingering from pre-game pyrotechnics that whipped 6,228 fans into a frenzy.
And in the end, with post-game fireworks lighting up the sky over Blue Wahoos Stadium, the Argonauts savored the thrill of taking care of business in impressive fashion, drilling Missouri S&T 45-28 in their first home game in program history.
“What a great night for Pensacola and the University of West Florida. I’m just glad we won the game,” said head coach Pete Shinnick in post-game press conference. “To make it all work, to make it more memorable, I’m extremely proud of the guys.”
UWF’s vision for football began in 2009, and last weekend in Naples, the Argos kicked off their inaugural season in style, hammering Ave Maria 45-0.
Their goal this week was to build off the momentum and give fans the joy of seeing an exclamation point put on another historic moment.
Fans tailgated hours before kickoff and the party continued inside the stadium, creating an atmosphere that not every school at the NCAA Division II level is fortunate to have.
Austin Peffers put the first ever points at home on the scoreboard with 13 minutes left in the opening quarter, nailing a 36-yard field goal, but the first big highlight was Ishmel Morrow diving into the end zone to make a grab with one hand and put the Argos ahead 10-0.
“The crowd was going crazy. It felt so good,” Morrow said. “I put my hand out. I had to go get it.”
That 14-yard scoring strike was the first of six touchdowns quarterback Kaleb Nobles, a fifth-year senior transfer from Valdosta State, would throw as he surpassed 500 yards for the first time in his career.
“We had a really great week of practice. We executed as much as we could,” Nobles said. “We knew there were opportunities. We just had to execute.”
Touchdown tosses to Anas Hasic and Antoine Griffin stretched the Argos’ lead to 24-0. Both players finished with two touchdown receptions apiece and Kevin Grant capped UWF’s scoring outburst with a 2-yard TD catch with 6:45 left in the third.
Nobles threw for 503 yards, completing 27 of his 47 passes, including eight to Griffin, who racked up 126 yards for an explosive UWF offense that has put up 90 points in two games.
The Miners (1-1) got as close as 31-20 with 1:14 to go until halftime thanks to Tyler Swart’s 86-yard scoring strike to Graham Braxton. But the Argos had too many weapons for the Miners to deal with and pulled away for the win.
“Credit S&T. They didn’t give up a lick,” Shinnick said. “They kept fighting, kept battling.”
First-year programs often have a tough time getting their feet under them. The Argos have yet to stumble, although the schedule will get tougher going forward.
Late Saturday night, the players still lingering around talking with family members outside the stadium, all that mattered was that the Argos are still undefeated, which are words found on t-shirts many of the fans were wearing.
“2-0 sounds very good and Dr. (Judy) Bense said 2-0 was part of the process. I’m just following her lead,” Shinnick said. “It feels great. I’m extremely proud of our coaches and players. We have put in a lot of work to get to this point right here.”