West Palm Beach, FL – On a night where two Mid-South Conference schools that went a combined 18-1 on the season would face each other in a win or go home situation, an all-out war would ensue where it would take each and every blow that the victor would throw to take out their opposition. Today, the Patriots would come up with the final 1-2 knockout blow it took to take down the Seahawks of Keiser University 28-24 to advance to the NAIA Football Championship Series Quarterfinals.
Keiser would get the ball to open the game, but UC's defense would hold to a three-and-out and a punt. Cumberlands would drive a stellar 12 play drive to get the ball inside the red zone to Keiser's 11-yard line, but a pass from Josiah Robbins would be broken up by Sage Chen-Young and picked off in the end zone by DeAndre Henderson and downed for a touchback. Another three-and-out for the Seahawks would follow, but a 38 yard punt return from Darius Young would put the Patriots in great field position to start the drive. This drive would see a healthy dose of Martize Smith as he would eventually punch it in from one yard out to give UC their first lead of the day. Devon McMillin's extra point was good, pushing the Patriots out front 7-0. The Patriots continued to dominate the quarter as Keiser's quarterback Eli Mathews would take a hit and fumble on the next drive, recovered by UC's Keshawn Catlett as the Patriots would have the ball to start the second quarter.
The second quarter took a shift in momentum after a couple of series as Keiser would eventually even up the score on their second drive of the quarter. Mathews would find a streaking Jaylen Arnold down the right hash mark for 23 yards and a score. The point after was good, tying the game at 7-7. UC's next drive would stall deep in their own territory, but a low wind-aided punt from McMillin would take a nice Patriot bounce and make its way 69 yards downfield to put the Seahawks on their own 13 yard line. This time, Keiser would put together their own 12 play drive that took up over five and a half minutes and covered 87 yards capped by another TD strike from Mathews to Arnold, this one from 13 yards out to give Keiser a 14-7 lead heading to half.
UC would receive to start the second half and would not allow this drive to go empty handed. On a nine play drive that took four minutes off the clock, the Patriots turned once again to Smith who would break away for a 27 yard TD run to tie the game up at 14-14. On the ensuing drive, Keiser would respond as Mathews would scamper from 43 yards out to find the end zone. The extra point was good, pushing the Seahawks back out front 21-14. The Patriots would answer the call on their next possession as well. This time, the Patriots would cap of a ten play drive with a quarterback keeper of their own as Robbins would take it in from seven yards out to tie the game once again at 21-21 entering the fourth.
On Keiser's first drive of the quarter, UC's defense would show a bend-not-break mentality as they would hold the Seahawks to a field goal attempt. Logan Robinson would punch it through from 28 yards out to give Keiser a 24-21 lead with just under ten minutes to play. On the Patriots' next drive, UC would mix it up moving it down the field, but ultimately would find their way into the end zone on another Robbins' keeper, this one from two yards out for the touchdown. Point after was good and UC held their first lead since the first quarter 28-24 with six minutes to play. Keiser would slowly drive down the field and eventually make it just outside the red zone with under two minutes to play. On third and 14 from the UC 21, Mathews would be pushed out of the pocket as he looked for Caleb Walls in the end zone, but Myles Betts would step in front and pick off the pass, downing it in the end zone. UC would take possession on their 20 yard line, but Keiser had two time outs remaining. Smith would be called upon to get the Patriots a first down and he did just that with back-to-back four yard gains before getting the first down on a nine yard plunge to seal the game for UC.
Robbins would struggle a bit through the air, going just 10-23 for 108 yards and an interception, but would add 71 yards on the ground with two scores. Smith was the work horse in the contest, tallying 31 carries for 165 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Darius Young would catch eight passes for 88 yards while Weston Hayes would haul in the final two for 20 yards.
Defensively, the senior duo of Tyler Pendleton and Adam Johnson were all over the field in the win. Pendleton tallied 12 total tackles (six solo) while Johnson added 10 with three tackles for loss and a pass breakup. UC would not accrue a sack on the night, but would have seven tackles for loss, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, one interception, and four pass breakups.
Now, UC will turn their attention to next weekend as they will make the trip to Indianapolis, Indiana to take on the second-ranked Knights of Marian University in the NAIA Football Championships Series Quarterfinals. Kickoff is slated for 1:05 PM Eastern time from St. Vincent Field. This game will be the first ever matchup between the tenth-ranked Patriots and Knights of Marian.