The No. 20 West Florida football team is headed back to the Final Four for the second time in three years after holding off No. 6 Lenoir-Rhyne, 43-38, on Saturday in Hickory, North Carolina.
HICKORY, N.C. — Cue that iconic bass riff. Another one bites the dust.
One week after knocking off unbeaten Valdosta State, the West Florida football team did it again Saturday, holding off undefeated Lenoir-Rhyne, 43-38, in Hickory, North Carolina, to claim the NCAA Division II Super Region 2 championship and lock up a spot in the Final Four for the second time in the past three years.
Even better? The No. 20 Argos (11-2 overall) never trailed the No. 6 Bears, turning Anthony Johnson Jr.’s early red zone fumble into a pivotal safety for the game’s first score; junior defensive lineman Matthew Gotel stuffed Tate Beaver inside his own 1-yard line, and Austin Reed, the reigning Gulf South Conference Offensive Freshman of the Year, capped the ensuing seven-play, 52-yard drive with a 15-yard touchdown pass to Ka’Ron Ashley to give UWF a 9-0 lead with 6:57 left in the first quarter.
It was the first of three touchdown passes for the redshirt freshman, Reed coming up big against a Lenoir-Rhyne defense that entered allowing just 15.46 points per game, the seventh best mark in Division II football. By game’s end, Reed had completed 21 of 36 passes for 360 yards with just one interception, he and his receivers torching a secondary that was begging them to throw.
Quentin Randolph, a senior and Navarre alumnus, led the receiving crew with eight catches for 114 yards, including a 4-yard score to open the second quarter, while Ashley and Rodney Coates each finished with three catches for 76 and 92 yards, respectively.
However, Lenoir-Rhyne’s (13-1) offense kept pace, notching three first-half touchdowns, and managed to cut the deficit to two points twice in the second half.
Bears kicker Chase Allbaugh opened the third quarter with a 20-yard field goal that made it 26-24, capping a five-minute drive, and running back Ryan Carter all but erased UWF’s 40-24 fourth-quarter advantage with touchdown runs of 4 and 2 yards to make it 40-38 with 11:11 left.
That’s where the Argo defense, ranked 14th in the country and allowing just 16.9 points per game, stepped up.
The Bears had only two drives the rest of the game, running 12 plays that totaled just 14 yards — the latter ending when junior D'Anthony Bell stepped in front of Grayson Willingham’s final pass of the day to seal the upset. Bell also recovered a fumble on the Bears’ first drive and finished with seven tackles and two pass breakups.
With the victory, UWF is 7-0 on the road in the Division II playoffs and 3-0 against previously undefeated teams. The latter mark bodes well; when UWF kicks off its semifinal matchup on Saturday, Ferris State (12-0), Slippery Rock (12-0) or Minnesota State (13-0) — each No. 1 seeds — will be lined up on the opposite side.