On Saturday, the University of West Florida football team will stand on the doorstep of the NCAA Division II national championship game.
The 20th-ranked Argonauts battle No. 2 Ferris State in a national semifinal at Top Taggart Field in Big Rapids, Michigan. Kickoff is 3:30 p.m. EST.
It will be the third consecutive unbeaten team UWF (11-2) has played in the postseason. It’s also the fourth time in as many weeks the Argos have been on the road in the playoffs. They are 7-0 on the road in program history.
Snow is likely and the high temperature will hover somewhere in the mid 30’s. But the Argos have done their best this week to prepare for the cold, using frozen footballs in practice and putting their hands in buckets of ice.
And the Argos embrace the chance to still be playing football.
“Being a student-athlete is a great honor. We all know that,” running back Anthony Johnson said. “Not a lot of people get to do this. We are taking full advantage of being in the playoffs. We’re proud of it, especially coming off a year like last year.”
Last year the Argos finished 6-5, a disappointing season compared to 2017 when UWF made a run to the title game in just its second year of existence.
Now the Argos are on the cusp of another appearance in the final game, and though the pressure rises, the mindset doesn’t change.
“We just have to play our game and have confidence,” former Navarre Raider and UWF wide receiver Quentin Randolph said. “Nothing really changes except that you get closer to the stakes you want, closer to a national championship.”
Getting to that next step requires beating a Bulldogs team that boasts the sixth-best offense in the nation. FSU is cranking out 510.3 yards per game and has outscored its two playoff opponents 62-13.
The Bulldogs (12-0), who received a first-round bye, lean heavily on the run, led by Marvin Campbell. He’s rushed for 744 yards and 10 touchdowns while Tyler Minor and Evan Cummins have both scored eight rushing touchdowns.
Defensively, the Bulldogs are giving up 263 yards per game and Austin Edwards is the top defensive lineman in D-II, coming through with 55 tackles and 12 sacks.
The winner of Saturday’s game faces Minnesota State (13-0) or Slippery Rock (13-0) next Saturday in the national final at McKinney ISD Stadium in Texas.
UWF is playing its 19th game against a nationally ranked opponent in the four-year history of its program. The Argos are 10-8 against those opponents. The Argos are 33-17 overall since the inaugural 2016 season.
Austin Reed has thrown for more than 3,200 yards while throwing two or more touchdown passes eight times in 2019.
Randolph has produced four 100-yard games as a receiver and has caught seven touchdowns in the last five games. He has a team-best eight on the year to go along with 44 receptions. A total of six receivers have 10 or more catches.
UWF has forced 28 turnovers and has come up with at least one turnover in 46 out of 50 games in program history. Chanler Ferguson leads the team with 79 tackles.
With a win, UWF will become the first team in NCAA history to reach the title game twice in its first four years. The Argos will also set a new record for wins in a season.
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