UWF’s Season Ends In Heartbreaking 33-30 Overtime Loss in NCAA First Round

November 21, 2021

by Bill Vilona, UWF Argos Senior Writer

The stadium fell silent. The home crowd stared ahead in shock. The players fell to their knees, many fighting back tears.

A season of high expectations and cresting momentum for the No. 2-ranked University of West Florida football team came to a stunning, heart-breaking end Saturday, after unranked Newberry College pulled off a 33-30 overtime upset in the first round of the NCAA Division II playoffs at Blue Wahoos Stadium.

“I’m sick for our whole team. I’m sick for Pensacola,” said UWF coach Pete Shinnick, following the first time UWF hosted a post-season game. “I thought it was a great day to host a home playoff game. This is a very, very difficult way to end the year.”

On this day, the script was flipped. The tables were turned.

The Argos (9-2) entered 9-0 in non-championship, playoff games. They were the defending national champions from 2019. They had just rung up a 19-point victory against the former No. 1-ranked team, then-unbeaten Valdosta State, on this field a week ago by scoring 61 points.

They had the confidence. But Saturday, the Argos’ two-touchdown lead evaporated in the fourth quarter by continued miscues. The Argos were then forced to kick a field goal with their overtime possession.

That was all Newberry (10-2) needed to reel off eight rushing plays from the 25 – the final being a 1-yard sweep run by Mario Anderson – for the walk-off win. It was Newberry’s third overtime game this season, which helped provide more resolve when it reached that point.

“I’m a little bit in awe of the outcome,” said Newberry coach Todd Knight, in his 14th season at the rural South Carolina school. “I know the young men played their hearts out today and I’m extremely proud of ‘em. We are extremely happy that we got lucky and came out on top.

“This is an unbelievable opportunity that we had, coming to an amazing place. We are from a small, southern town in South Carolina. We don’t have anything that compares to what West Florida has.”
The Wolves, playing in the first post-season game since 2016 and advancing past the first round for only the second time, pulled this off by starting fast, creating turnovers, and making UWF’s high-octane passing game get knocked off-rhythm.

With its offense, Newberry scored on the game’s second play and the final play.

The first sign of trouble for UWF arrived instantly after the opening kickoff. On the game’s second offensive snap, the Wolves turned a five-yard, sideline pass to Bryce Woodruff into a 66-yard touchdown, after he eluded the tackle and outraced UWF defenders.

“At Newberry we teach grit,” said Woodruff, who finished with 11 receptions for 131 yards. “From the start to the finish we always say we’re going to play 60 minutes, so there was never a doubt in my mind.

“There were ups and downs in the football game, but I thought we could win the whole time.”

The Wolves took a 14-0 lead less than six minutes into the first quarter, after a fumbled kickoff return pinned UWF deep and the Argos three pass attempts were incomplete. With field position, Newberry used it to create more positive emotion and force UWF to climb from a two-touchdown deficit.

“We gave them life. We talk all the time, don’t give a team life,” Shinnick said. “They threw a five yard pass and we miss a tackle. We had a couple chances on offense where we just missed on a couple balls.

“In that first five minutes, I felt like we were just kind of running in mud. I don’t know why. It will be something for a very long time we will be thinking about.”

From that point, UWF’s defense rose up. It enabled UWF to trail just 14-10 at halftime, then take 27-14 lead early in the fourth quarter.

All seemed right again.

And then it wasn’t.

The Wolves’ Ke’Shoun Williams blocked a punt at the UWF 36 that he returned for a touchdown with 12:09 remaining. On the ensuing possession, after a long kickoff return by UWF’s Marcus Clayton, Argos’ sophomore quarterback Austin Reed threw his third interception on a deflected pass.

Newberry drove in for the tying touchdown. It was a struggling day for Reed, who completed just 11 of 35 passes for 134 yards – the least productive game in his great career at UWF.

“Obviously, I didn’t play well at all,” he said. “I put that on me.”

Time and again, the Argos normally potent passing game wasn’t clicking. Either with overthrown passes or dropped passes. Newberry had two veteran cornerbacks and their pass rush put UWF’s offensive line in a challenging position to help create problems.

“The only thing I can really say at this point is that I’m sorry,” said Reed, who led the Argos to their national title season in 2019 as a redshirt freshman. “I let a lot of seniors down. I let UWF fans down. I should have found a way in this game and I didn’t and I apologize.

“Coach Shinnick did a great job getting us ready, getting us right, and we didn’t perform as players. He shouldn’t take any of the blame whatsoever for this loss. It falls 100 percent on us.

“(Newberry) just had a good gameplan. They came out and executed really well. We’re up 27-14 at one point and really could have ended it. We just didn’t do what we needed to do to end a game.”

An interception by Reed near the goal-line right before halftime thwarted a chance to take the lead earlier.
But he guided the Argos offense into a pair of touchdowns and a field goal with possessions in the third quarter.

Until that blocked punt, everything was going in the right direction.

“(Reed) has been one of the best quarterbacks in the country,” Shinnick said. “(Saturday) was just an ugly day offensively. We knew (Newberry) would create some issuesand they probably created more than we anticipated.

“They disrupted what we do. We could not get any rhythm going.”

With time now a factor in the game, Newberry took a early fourth quarter chance with a certain formation UWF was in and sent punt blockers rushing up the middle. That special teams play helped change the game.

“Good tactic by them. Something we’ve been working on and just didn’t perform it the way we were practicing,” Shinnick said. “We knew it was one of the things they were going to do.

“That was the momentum swing that kept them in the game.”

Saturday’s stunning playoff loss occurred in UWF’s third postseason trip in its five-year history, which is a feat itself. And it followed two incredible playoff runs. The Argos reached the national title game in 2017 with four road wins, then won the title in 2019 with five road wins.

It created a special legacy for the Argos senior class, some of whom were involved in all three playoff trips.

“It is sickening that it ends this way,” Shinnick said.

Photo: Morgan Givens/UWF for NorthEscambia.com, click to enlarge.

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