Playoff hopes on the line?
The University of West Florida football team responded the way it hoped it would in a back-and-forth Gulf South Conference showdown against West Alabama Saturday.
The result was a 48-37 victory on a mild, sun-splashed November afternoon at Blue Wahoos Stadium.
With the win, the Argos cap their most successful regular season in program history while punching a ticket to their second playoff appearance in four years.
Ranked 22nd in the nation, UWF is the fifth seed and opens the NCAA Division II postseason Saturday against fourth-seeded Wingate (10-1) in North Carolina.
The winner gets top seed and reigning champ Valdosta State in the second round.
Nailing down the playoff bid was gridiron entertainment at its best, the Argos (8-2, 7-1 GSC) putting on a show for the crowd of 5,619.
Austin Reed throwing for 443 yards and five touchdowns was among the highlights.
Navarre’s own Quentin Randolph also delivered in a big way. He caught three scoring strikes on a night when he established career highs in catches (8) and yards (171) as well as touchdown receptions.
“That’s probably the best football game I’ve had in my 18 years. It was phenomenal,” Randolph said. “It means a lot to me. I feel like this game keeps me alive.”
The defense came alive when it mattered most. It rose to the occasion in the clutch, twice forcing the Tigers to settle for field goals after drives stalled inside the 10.
Another drive ended with a fumble. UWA’s last hope for a comeback died at the goal line thanks to an interception by De’Mareyae Givens.
UWF rolled up 544 yards while securing second place outright in the conference standings.
UWA (6-5, 3-5) finished with 547 yards.
“Our guys did a good job. I’m proud of them,” UWF head coach Pete Shinnick said. “I’m proud of the way the guys accepted, responded and stepped up to the challenge.”
The Argos entered the game sixth in the South Region and the top seven go to the playoffs. A loss may have not ended those hopes, but they knew a win, their eighth in nine games, would leave no doubt.
On Sunday, the team held its banquet but planned to take a brief break to watch the selection show.
Now, two years after that runner-up finish in just its second year of existence, UWF returns to the postseason knowing what to expect.
“This is an older group that knows what it takes and understand what it looks like,” Shinnick said. “The way they responded today shows their mettle, their fiber and their character of a team that is not going away. They know they can take care of business.”
Randolph believes the Argos can indeed take care of business.
“We’re confident whatever game unfolds in the playoffs, we feel like we’ll be able to handle it,” Randolph said.
Read more in the Nov. 21 edition of the Navarre Press. Subscribe online at navarrepress.com for as little as $38 per year.