The University of West Florida football team won its sixth straight game Saturday, beating rival Florida Tech 38-14 on the road in Melbourne.
MELBOURNE — It was Shomari Mason’s world, and for four grueling hours Florida Tech had to live in it.
On a day where the UWF football team had to fight for every rushing yard, Mason, a freshman, averaged 10.6 yards a pop, guiding the No. 20 Argos through a weather delay to a 38-14 Coastal Classic victory against the Panthers on Saturday afternoon in Melbourne.
Mason finished with a team-high 103 rushing yards and a touchdown on just 10 carries, pacing a ground attack that mustered 172 yards and three scores against a surprisingly stout Panther defensive front. Florida Tech (3-5 overall, 1-4 Gulf South Conference) entered the game allowing a conference-worst 219.4 rushing yards per game.
Mason’s biggest run came during the third quarter. Just two plays out of the halftime locker room, the 5-foot-6 speedster gave the Argos (6-1, 5-0) a much-needed insurance score, taking off for a 61-yard touchdown and a 24-7 lead.
Three minutes and a Panther punt later, redshirt freshman quarterback Austin Reed dropped a 65-yard bomb to Melbourne native Kevin Grant for a 31-7 lead and the rout was on.
The conference’s leading passer Reed finished the afternoon with 224 yards on 18-of-36 passing, shrugging off an early red zone interception to throw his first of two touchdown passes on the day to senior Tate Lehtio for a 7-0 first-quarter lead that would hold all the way until the final whistle.
Reed also ran in a 1-yard touchdown late in the first half for a 17-7 Argo lead.
Meanwhile, the Panther offense struggled mightily against a UWF defense that has allowed just 10.6 points and 262.5 yards per game to its opponents this year.
Florida Tech quarterback Mike Diliello had a 91-yard rushing touchdown in the second quarter and a 7-yard touchdown pass to Kenny Hiteman in garbage time, but he was otherwise held to 3.2 yards per carry and 4.2 yards per pass.
The Panthers’ co-starter under center, Trent Chmelik completed just 4-of-12 passes for 82 yards and two interceptions.
STAT OF THE NIGHT: 24
The 24-point margin of victory was the largest in Coastal Classic history.
Each of the previous three matchups had been decided by a combined eight points, including the Panthers’ first victory in the series from this past year — a 30-28 decision at Blue Wahoos Stadium that UWF led 21-3 at late in the first half.
OFFENSIVE MVP: Shomari Mason, UWF
UWF coach Pete Shinnick entered Saturday’s game with one offensive goal in mind.
“We’ve gotta be able to run the ball,” he said earlier in the week.
Outside of Mason, the Argos averaged just 2.5 yards per carry.
The Fort Myers kid showed up in a big way.
DEFENSIVE MVP: Gael Laurent, UWF
Momentum is huge in football, and it often hangs in the balance early, waiting for one team, one player to take advantage of it.
Gael Laurent, a redshirt freshman linebacker, was that player Saturday.
After Reed was intercepted on the Argos’ first offensive possession, Laurent stepped in front of Chmelik pass at the Tech 30 and returned it 16 yards into the red zone. Seven plays later, Reed hit Lhetio on a 4-yard touchdown pass for the game’s first points.
UWF returns to Blue Wahoos Stadium to face North Greenville (3-5, 2-4) at 4 p.m. Saturday in Pensacola. The game will be broadcast live on Yurview and ESPN Pensacola 99.1 FM, as well as on tape delay on Cox Sports Television.
The Argos lead the all-time series 1-0 after beating the Crusaders 26-10 a year ago in Tigerville, South Carolina, behind quarterback Sam Vaughn’s three touchdown passes.