UWF’s Season Ends With NCAA Playoff Loss At Delta State

November 19, 2023

After so many special moments and mind-blowing wins in its post-season history, UWF’s football team endured an opposite experience this time.

by Bill Vilona

The Argos were blown out from the outset, committing a variety of self-destructive mistakes in a 49-14 rematch loss Saturday against Delta State in the NCAA Division II Super Region 2 first-round playoffs at McCool Stadium.

Only four weeks ago on this field, the Argos (8-4) exited with their season’s biggest win – a 24-21 win against the Statesmen. That ultimately earned UWF an unseeded, at-large spot in the seven-team, region playoff field and the Argos’ fifth playoff trip in their seven-year existence.

But what ensued Saturday was unlike the Argos previous 15 playoff games. They were 4-0 in postseason rematches against Gulf South Conference opponents, including last year’s playoff win at Delta State, plus 12-3 overall with 11 of those playoff wins away from UWF.

All of that good mojo, however, quickly dissolved when the Statesmen produced five touchdowns in the first half for a 35-0 halftime lead that made the second half a formality on the outcome.

“Yeah, it definitely is (difficult to overcome) and to me, that’s all on me as a head coach,” said UWF coach Kaleb Nobles, who completed his first season at the helm. “I didn’t put our guys in the best chance to win the game and turnovers obviously raise the chances for the other team to win the game.

“I thought we had a good chance to come in here and play well. We just didn’t do enough on both sides of the ball to get a win. We know there’s a lot of things we need to improve on next year coming back.”

It was UWF’s worst playoff loss in terms of points allowed and margin of defeat.

Senior quarterback Peewee Jarrett, who played such a big part of the past two years of success, went through his toughest game in a UWF uniform.

He committed four turnovers, fumbling three times in the first half and throwing a third-quarter interception that was returned for a touchdown.

Jarrett finished completing 15 of 27 passes for 287 yards and two touchdowns, but most of his positive stats came in the second half.

“I gave (Delta State) opportunities myself by putting the ball on the ground,” Jarrett said.

Both of UWF’s star receivers, seniors John Jiles and Caden Leggett, did not have a touchdown reception. Jiles was held to five catches for 46 yards; Leggett had only two grabs for 35 yards.

The three players were among 16 seniors on UWF’s team and their impact before Saturday’s loss weighed heavily on Nobles as he reflected upon the season.

“I think about our players, our seniors and everything they have given to this program,” said Nobles, fighting back emotions after the game. “Um, I get emotional about them, just because I hate to see them go out like this.

“It doesn’t matter about me, I’m going to hopefully be here for a long time, but our seniors don’t get a chance to do this again. I’m proud our seniors, proud of the guys on how they played (in careers) and we’ll be back, I can promise that.”

Said Jarrett: “I had never really played in an atmosphere like this (in UWF career) where winning was the standard, winning big. So being at this program has been great. I’m glad I had an opportunity to play around a lot of guys here who have been here for four years and brought me into their brotherhood.”

UWF entered the game with the best playoff-winning percentage in NCAA D-2 history. The Argos had won this region three times, including last year’s run to the national semifinals. They were 4-1 in games played at Delta State, which entered Saturday ranked No. 8 nationally and No. 2 in the region.

On their first offensive play, the Argos got a 44-yard completion from Jarrett to Zac Offord, which was Offord’s biggest play this season and it served immediate notice of the Argos being back in their road playoff comfort zone. Offord, a junior, finished with three catches for 68 yards.

But an offsides penalty and Jarrett getting stuffed on a scramble run led to a punt and Delta State began its scoring explosion.

The Statesmen started at their own 8 and stunned with a 63-yard touchdown pass from Patrick Shegog to Nathan Howard on a wide-receiver screen.

This began a performance from Shegog, a fifth-year senior, which included six touchdown passes in completing 19 of 25 throws. He also rushed for 22 yards and did not commit a turnover.

On the ensuing possession following the game’s first touchdown, Jarrett lost the ball on a first-down run from UWF’s 45. A Delta State lineman returned the ball to the 8. On 3rd-and-goal from the 4, Shegog connected with tight end Tycen Gray for the second touchdown.

Jarrett’s second fumble ensued three plays later, giving Delta State the ball at the Argos 37. This time the UWF defense forced a stop.

When the Statesmen got the ball again, they drove 73 yards in five plays to take a 21-0 lead.

UWF answered with a drive that resulted in a first down at the Statesmen 5. But a throw to Jiles was incomplete, a running play was stopped and Jarrett was sacked on third down. Placekicker Griffin Cerra’s 24-yard field goal attempt bounced off the left upright and fell away.

It was this kind of day.

Jarrett’s third fumble led to another DSU touchdown with 2:31 left. And then a final dagger was applied when the Statesmen went 80 yards in five players against UWF’s defense. When an Argo defender slipped in coverage, Shegog’s 37-yard touchdown was caught by Jaylen Green with one second remaining in the half.

“It’s a bittersweet moment,” said UWF senior linebacker Gael Laurent, who was a freshman and part of UWF’s 2019 national title season, then last year’s run to the national semifinals while being a part of a playoff team in all four of his seasons.

In his final game Saturday, Laurent led UWF’s defense with nine tackles including five solo stops.

“I never thought my career would end like this,” he said. “But I had a lot of fun. I enjoyed every ride along the way. I’m really happy to be an Argo. Unfortunately, we came up short (Saturday), because we didn’t execute how we were supposed to as a team, but my career has been phenomenal. I love being an Argo.”

In the second half, UWF scored a pair of touchdowns, highlighted by Jackson Blalock’s 71-yard TD on a double-reverse, flea-flicker and Jarrett’s throw midway through the third quarter.

Anthony Ballard caught a 46-yard TD pass from Jarrett in the fourth quarter.

“Our character and our resiliency is what shows up in a game like that,” Nobles said. “Just our guys fighting and we never feel like we’re out of it until the last second and that is kind of how our program has been built off the ground. You come from that underdog mentality and our guys did that (Saturday).”


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