Division II Playoffs: Latest Milestone For UWF Football
In just its second year of existence, the University of West Florida football program is in the Division II playoffs. The Argonauts take on Wingate University in North Carolina on Saturday.
The Argos went 7-3 in the regular season, including an upset of nationally-ranked West Georgia in the finale – a team that beat UWF 69-0 a year ago. After the game, Head Coach Pete Shinnick told the players who would be returning for 2017, not to forget that feeling.
“We talked to them and said, “Hey, we don’t ever want to feel this way again, and we don’t ever want to be in this position,’” said Shinnick. “We also talked about [how] we ran out of gas. They trained harder, we worked harder. They did some things so that, come the end of the year we would be a fresh team and be able to play at a high level. We’ve done that.”
After UWF’s inaugural 5-6 campaign in 2016, Shinnick went into this season with the thought that the team could be competitive in every game.
“We lost to Valdosta [State] but had a chance late,” Shinnick said. “We lost to Delta [State] really in the last minute. And North AL [Alabama] we took to about midway through the fourth quarter; [until then] we were in the game.”
The Wingate Bulldogs went 9-1 this season, taking the South Atlantic Conference championship. Shinnick knows the program well, from his time at North Carolina-Pembroke.
“Very well-coached team, very disciplined team,” said Shinnick. “They’re going to play hard, they’re going to play physical, they’re going to be in the right place [and] create turnovers. They’re going to look for the big play, and [they have] probably one of the best running backs that we’ve seen.”
That running back would be Lawrence Pittman, a 225-pound senior who rushed for 1,226 yards and eleven touchdowns. He’s one of ten Wingate players on the all-SAC team.
With a playoff appearance on their resume, Shinnick says that’s an extra tool in the recruiting toolbox this off-season.
“It definitely raises the awareness of our program; raises the awareness of the University of West Florida,” says Shinnick. “Now that we’re winning, 7-3 in our second year, able to go to the playoffs faster than any other Division II2 team in this history of DII football, we feel like there’s a lot to sell and a lot of exciting things that we can talk about.”
If a Division II football team has to go 600 miles or more for a playoff game, the NCAA provides air travel. The distance between Pensacola and Wingate, North Carolina is 598 miles. The team buses departed Thursday afternoon for the nine-hour drive.
For UWF Head Coach Pete Shinnick – it’s no biggie.
“We played [Missouri S&T] which was 13 hours away; [Florida Tech] is actually just as far, “ Shinnick says. “Our team’s used to it; our team travels well. We went 4-1 this year on the road.”
Twenty eight teams are in the Division-2 playoffs, including fellow GSC members West Georgia and West Alabama, the latter the top seed in Super Regional 2. UWF is seeded at number six in that bracket. The winner of West Florida-Wingate will play the winner of the West Georgia-Virginia State matchup.