In just season two, West Florida football continues its journey through the rarefied air of the Division II playoffs. The Argonauts are one win away from playing for a national championship.
Semifinal week began for UWF with the naming of Head Coach Pete Shinnick as Region 2 Coach of the Year, and a finalist for Division II Coach of the Year.
“I’ve got a great staff, great group of players; without them, none of this would have happened,” Shinnick said on his weekly cable TV show.
West Florida comes into Saturday’s game at 10-3. The Argos knocked off Gulf South Conference Champion West Alabama 28-21 in Livingston last weekend, after trailing at halftime.
“[West Alabama] played a very good half, and they made us look bad in the first half,” said Shinnick. “Some of that was us, some of that was them. I felt like we had way more to give.”
It’s become a sports cliché, but the Argos have truly been “road warriors” this season, winning six of seven games away from Bayfront Stadium. Shinnick believes the team will take the trip to IUP – via chartered flight – in stride.
“I think if this had been our first trip, this would be a big undertaking,” said the Coach. “But the fact that we had to go on the road at Wingate, move around and things like that. We’ve been on the road the last five weeks, something like that. This is all just part of the adventure.”
Indiana (PA) went to 13-0 last week with a 27-22 win over Assumption of Worcester, Massachusetts. The Crimson Hawks are in the playoffs for seventh time in their 127-year history, and their first semi-final since 1999.
“I think the thing you have to watch when you get to this point – you get into the big games and now you’re down to the Final Four – I think you still have to worry about what we do,” said IUP Head Coach Paul Tortorella. “I don’t think we can change things and try to match up things for what West Florida does. I think we have to continue what we do offensively, defensively, and special teams.”
The IPU offense is led by running backs Samir Bullock and freshman Justice Evans, who have rushed for more than 2,000 yards and 19 touchdowns combined. Tortorella praised both for their performances against Assumption.
“Samir had a great 16-yard run that he made out of not a whole lot, and Justice was unbelievable,” Tortorella said. “But our offense line – when you look at that last [winning] drive in the game, they totally took the game over.”
And IUP quarterback Lenny Williams Jr. has thrown for more than 2,700 yards and 30 TDs. Tortorella offered this assessment of West Florida.
“They like to throw the ball; they will run it; they’ve got some good receivers, they have a big quarterback [Mike Beaudry],” said Tortorella. “On offense [UWF] has eight starters that are freshmen or sophomores because they’re a two-year program. Most of their transfers that are older kids are playing on their defense; and their defense is really good. They’re on a great roll.”
Kickoff is 12 noon Eastern time at George P. Miller Stadium. With a chance of snow and freezing temperatures in the forecast, the Crimson Hawks no doubt are hoping that Mother Nature will be their 12th man on Saturday. But UWF Coach Pete Shinnick says they’ll be prepared as well.
“You do some things at practice with ice and footballs and type of thing,” Shinnick said. “We’ve talked to them about it and given them some tips. We felt like at some point in time we would have to take a northern trip, so we got some good gear for them and some opportunities for them to try to stay warm.”
The winner plays either Texas A&M-Commerce or Harding University for the Division II title on December 9 at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas.