The Missouri S&T football team hosted West Florida to open their 2017 season on Saturday, Sept. 2. The game was back and forth all night long, but a goal line fumble in the final minute ended the Miners' hopes for victory in a 20-16 loss.
West Florida struck first after the teams traded possessions in the first quarter with an 80-yard drive that was capped off with a one yard score by Chris Swartz. A missed extra point opened the door for the Miners to respond. S&T did just that when Tyler Swart launched a bomb down the middle of the field to Braxton Graham for a 65 yard touchdown early in the second quarter. The extra point gave the Miners a 7-6 lead.
S&T nearly extended that lead before the half, as they charged down near the red zone. West Florida stopped them on the 21-yard line after third down and the Miners had a decision to make. They elected to go for the first down, but an incomplete pass gave the ball back to the Argonauts with 1:51 left to play. That was enough time for West Florida to charge down the field 79 yards, which ended with a 25 yard strike from Mike Beaudry to Rodney Coates with six seconds left in the half. The extra point gave West Florida a 13-7 lead at the half.
The Miners tied the game with 35 and 32 yard field goals by Ben Styron in the third quarter, leaving the game tied at 13 with a quarter left to play. The Miners should've started the fourth quarter with the ball after a punt, but S&T misplayed a bouncing ball and the officials ruled that they touched the ball before it was recovered by West Florida. The Argonauts recovered the ball on the 21 and turned that into a 13 yard touchdown from Beaudry to Gage Krull.
The Miners kicked their third field goal of the game on the ensuing drive, cutting the West Florida lead to 20-16 and got the ball back on their 44 with 3:02 left on the clock. Graham opened the drive with a 21 yard catch and was the target when the Miners were later facing a fourth down play at the West Florida 38. Swart fired a pass to Graham, who was draped by an Argonaut defender. The flag was thrown for pass interference, giving the Miners some late life. Swart then hit Spencer Elrod for a 14 yard gain to set up what would've been a game-winning touchdown. Deshawn Jones charged towards the end zone for and extended for the touchdown, but Martes Wheeler came in from behind to knock the ball out of his hands inches shy of the goal line. Trent Archie recovered the ball for West Florida in the end zone to essentially seal a 20-16 victory over the Miners.
"I think Deshawn Jones is a really really good running back. He runs hard, he's explosive. He got out of some tackles and he's just strong," said head coach Tyler Fenwick after the game. "It hurts that he didn't get into the end zone on that last play. He's hurting. He feels it. He's such an unbelievable kid. He's one of the hardest working kids I think I've ever been around. He's gonna put all of this on his shoulders and he doesn't need to. It's a team effort and it just didn't happen."
Despite the loss, coach Fenwick likes what he saw out of his team in their season opener.
"I think we have a really good football team. Our kids played together the whole game," said coach Fenwick. "That was a really good football team that we played, that was a very athletic football team that we played and we took it to them. We gave them everything we had. We had plenty of opportunities to win the game.
"It's a shame," continued Fenwick. "It's hard to talk about after that because you just feel like we played really hard and we played really well and other than a few plays that didn't go our way where we didn't execute or whatever happened. That's frustrating, but I love our team. There's no doubt...yeah we lost, but I'm really proud of the way our kids played."
Tyler Swart had a great night throwing the football for the Miners. The senior quarterback completed 31 of his 43 attempts for 357 yards, a touchdown and an interception. The interception coming on a deep ball that was just a big shy of his receiver. Fenwick loved what he saw out of his quarterback.
"He played hard, he's so competitive. Game day comes around and he's just ready to go," said coach Fenwick. "He made some really impressive throws today over the middle and made some really good decisions on some of the RPOs and we were able to take advantage of getting the ball to Braxton and Spencer out on the perimeter and over the middle."
Offensively, Braxton Graham is going to get a lot of the credit and it's well deserved. He caught 10 passes for 206 yards and a touchdown. One of the things that allowed Graham to shine was the fact that he had a little more help around him than he did for most of last season. Getting Elrod back after missing all of last year with an injury paid dividends, as the redshirt senior caught 11 passes for 85 yards to take some pressure off of Graham. Justin Vaughn, a transfer, also nearly caught a big touchdown for the Miners, but it was swatted out of his hands at the last second. Having players like that around Graham should make it an exciting year in the passing game for the Miners.
"Spencer got a lot of tough yards. He caught some bubble screens and stuff and he made some great decisions on the sidelines. It's nice to have him back," said Fenwick. "And Justin Vaughn, he got behind the defense, we just missed a big post to him in the end zone. He had it and it just kind of popped out...we've got some really good receivers."
S&T will remain at home and look to get in the win column when they host Northwood on Saturday, Sept. 9.