December football. Nothing beats it.
Never mind that there is a chill in the air on a Wednesday evening at Pen Air Field in Pensacola. It’s no big deal for the University of West Florida as it prepares for its next NCAA Division II playoff game.
“It’s awesome,” wide receiver Quentin Randolph said. “When the sun goes down, it gets a little cold, but it feels good to be out here. Senior year, you never want it to end. And the fact that it’s not over is awesome.”
The 20th-ranked Argonauts (10-2) have sixth-ranked Lenoir-Rhyne (13-0) next. Game time for this Elite Eight showdown is Noon Saturday in North Carolina.
UWF just earned one of its biggest wins in program history, stunning top-ranked and reigning champ Valdosta State 38-35 last week on the road.
It now wants another big win.
“Last week we said we were blessed. This week, we are one of eight and we want to be one of four,” UWF head coach Pete Shinnick said. “We told the guys here is what you have to do to be one of four. Let’s go get it done.”
At this point in the season, every team is good and the Bears are no exception. Unbeaten through 13 games for the first time in program history, they are coming off a 49-21 win over Carson-Newman. That win extended their home win streak to 15, the longest in D-II football.
L-R last reached the title game in 2013 and the Argos did it in 2017, their second season of existence.
Grayson Willingham has thrown for 1,960 yards but has attempted just 206 passes as the Bears do lean more on a running game anchored by Ameen Stevens, who leads the ground attack with 810 yards and 17 touchdowns.
Meanwhile, Dareke Young is the top receiver with 482 yards and seven touchdowns for an L-R is offense putting up 42.3 yards points and 425.2 yards per game.
The Bears are allowing 15.5 points per game and giving up just 281.4 yards per outing.
Their defense is led by Jaquan Artis, a candidate for the Harlon Hill award, the equivalent of the Heisman. Artis has recorded 79 tackles and 14 sacks while also forcing three fumbles.
“They are a very disciplined football team. We have to be as disciplined as we’ve been and play at the level we have been playing at,” Shinnick said. “We know we are going to get their best shot and they are going to give us everything they have.”
The Argos have rolled up nearly 4,800 yards of offense behind a fairly balanced attack and have forced 26 turnovers, coming up with at least one in 45 of the 49 games they have played in the history of their program.
Junior running back Anthony Johnson said winning Saturday comes down to sticking with what the Argos have been doing all season.
“Quite frankly, we just have to keep doing what we’ve been doing and keep trusting the system and trusting the process,” Johnson said.
UWF has won 10 of its last 11 games. It has scored 38 points in each of its first two playoff games. The Argos are 6-1 all-time in the postseason and sport an 18-10 road record.
Austin Reed has thrown for 2,902 yards and 28 touchdowns. Seven times he has thrown for two or more touchdowns in a game.
Randolph, a former Navarre Raider and walk-on at UWF, has caught 36 passes for 744 yards and seven touchdowns. Twelve times in his career he has caught three or more passes.
Chanler Ferguson and Trent Archie lead the team in tackles with 71 apiece.
The Argos are in the playoffs for the second time in program history. They will play the 50th game in the history of their program on Saturday. UWF is 32-17 all-time.
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