UWF’s Jalen Spencer emotional after playoff win
Bill Vilona/[email protected]
CARROLLTON, Georgia — Not even fairy tales have this kind of extended enchantment.
The University of West Florida’s football team produced another make-believe moment Saturday, and this one was so much bigger, so different and amazing that it stands apart from any of the previous ones.
The Argos beat West Georgia, 17-14, in an NCAA Division II, second-round playoff game Saturday despite five turnovers and two missed field goals earlier in the game.
“Crazy things have happened to us,” said UWF linebacker Reggie Barnes, who helped a defensive effort that overcame the offensive woes. “We’ve had some crazy games. You gotta just keep believing.”
It’s like the astonishing becomes more confounding.
The Argos, in their second year of existence, have just reached the national quarterfinals.
The Elite Eight. UWF Argos. Incredible doesn’t even describe this storyline.
“It’s unreal,” said quarterback Mike Beaudry, who shook off the worst first half and start of a second half in his brief career.
So unreal that cornerback Jalen Spencer, a Pensacola High grad who had a huge pass breakup in the first half to thwart a touchdown, was overcome with emotion.
“When I first came here I didn’t know what to expect,” said Spencer, his voice wavering, then tears streaming down his cheeks as he talked about transferring to UWF for one final year of eligibility. “I am just so proud (UWF coaches) let me come here and be part of this. It is such a blessing.”
This is what winning, chasing a championship and making history means to a football player like Spencer who grew up in Pensacola and played at South Florida before transferring to UWF.
And Saturday? Here is how the game started out for UWF’s offense: Interception, interception, missed field goal, interception.
That’s how the first four possessions ended.
“What you saw out of our team is what you have seen all year long,” said UWF coach Pete Shinnick. “There was no panic. Guys were not getting on each other, guys are not getting mad.
“Defense wasn’t griping, moaning, complaining. They just said, ‘Hey we are going to go out there and do our job and none of those turnovers turned into points.’ “
Beaudry and tight end Tate Lehtio, who was a difference maker in this game, hooked up on a end-of-half drive, which finished with the sophomore tight end catching a diving touchdown with 13 seconds left.
Lehtio also muscled his way for a first down conversion on 3rd-and-6 from the UWF 32 to start the TD drive.
“We have been good at that all year,” Beaudry said. “Right before the half, we have gone down and scored almost every game. Things started clicking.”
That momentum, however, was shortlived. West Georgia’s J.J. Jones returned the second half kickoff 72 yards to the UWF. 27. Four plays later, the Wolves tied the game.
On the ensuing possession, Beaudry threw his fourth interception at his own 30. Four plays later, West Georgia was up 14-7.
That’s when this game could have gone the other way fast. It could have been goodnight for UWF and its season.
But when Barnes recovered a fumble, then Williams missed his second field goal, it stayed back and forth on defense.
The Argos dialed up a trick play with receiver Antoine Griffin throwing a pass from his own 10 to wide open receiver Carlos Ducios for a 46 yard gain. Six plays later, it was a tied game.
With 4:50 left, Williams lined up for his third field goal attempt with demons of past misses circling.
“Austin Williams has been money,” Shinnick said. “So when he misses two you say, okay, something interesting is happening here. but with the game on the line and four minutes and something left, there was no doubt in my mind what we were going to do
“We were going to kick the ball and he was going to make it and we were going to be up and then we just had to hold them.”
Yep, all of that happened.
The Argos offense killed clock after another UWF defensive stop. They forced UWG to expend timeouots and only 40 seconds left.
In five plays, UWF’s defense forced three incompletions mixed in with a 10-yard completion, then the interception in the end zone with Marvin Conley playing like a baseball outfielder hauling in a lazy fly ball.
This was the same West Georgia team that last year beat UWF 69-0 to end the Argos’ inaugural season on the worst kind of downer.
“I think a lot has to do with the confidence they are playing with now and the improvement,” said West Georgia quarterback Willie Candler. “They are warriors.”
And they are winners. Big time, history-making winners.
Bill Vilona can be reached at [email protected] and 850-435-8532