The University of West Georgia football team's postseason run ended in the same manner as the regular season — coming up just one score short of Gulf South Conference foe West Florida.
Hosting sixth-seeded UWF for round two of the NCAA Division II playoffs on Saturday, the seventh-seeded Wolves' 2017 campaign came to a close by way of a 17-14 setback at University Stadium in what proved to be a frustrating day and even more painful final few controversial seconds of play.
First-year UWG head coach David Dean was disappointed to see his team's season come to an end, but made sure to give all the credit to their Argonaut visitors.
"I want to congratulate West Florida. It was a great football game. They made the plays when they had to and put together great drives at crucial times of the game and scored," Dean said. "Give them a tremendous amount of credit for making the plays when they had to."
Saturday's second-round tilt, which UWG got to host due to UWF not submitting a bid to the NCAA, began as a stalemate with both defenses dictating nearly the entirety of the first half.
The Wolves (9-4) started creating turnovers from the jump as Tyler Jack, Korie Rogers and Cam Magee all picked of UWF quarterback Mike Beaudry within the first quarter alone. But the West Georgia offense couldn't capitalize as drive after drive stalled out and ended in Cristian Ramirez punts.
Limited to only 117 rushing yards for the entire contest, Dean indicated that UWG's potent offense was simply held in check by a dominant Argonaut front seven.
"The bottom line is that they whipped us up front," Dean said. "We had a few good runs, but for the most part we ran sideways and that's not our run game. We're a downhill team and we weren't able to get going downhill because of the penetration they got up front."
The scoreless clash continued into the second with both Ramirez and UWF punter Colton Norris getting in plenty of work, while both kickers for the two combatants each missed a field goal. The Wolves would generate some momentum when hometown product Lance Waldrop recovered a muffed punt return to set them up in Argo territory. But that would be short-lived as a Mikell Lands-Davis fumble on the first play of the next series gave possession right back to UWF (9-3).
"We had four turnovers in the first half and came away with no points and that's a credit to West Florida's defense," Dean said. "We squandered some opportunities that we should've taken advantage of and, as it turned out, it hurt us at the end of the football game."
Right before the half, it was the road Argonauts that finally broke through as a 44-yard pass from Beaudry to Antoine Griffin would lead to a three-yard Tate Lehtio touchdown run to give the visitors a 7-0 lead heading into the locker room.
Receiving the ball coming out of the break, it was West Georgia's turn to put itself on the board. Aided by a J.J. Jones kickoff return down to the 28 and a 20-yard Devontae Jackson run that got them near the goal-line, quarterback Willie Candler found paydirt with a three-yard touchdown to tie the game 7-all.
After Rogers snagged yet another interception on the following UWF possession, the West Georgia offense capped its next drive with a touchdown run by senior Travis Custis, who had been out with a foot injury since the Valdosta State game on Oct. 7.
Describing the multitude of turnovers, the sophomore and Clemson transfer Rogers chalked it up the coaching staff putting them in perfect positions to make plays.
"Our coaches do a great job throughout the week of giving us all the possibilities of what we're able to get on Saturdays and putting us in different scenarios," Rogers said. "So when we go out there on Saturdays, it's just doing what you do all week and going out there to make plays."
UWG carried its seven-point lead into the fourth quarter until Beaudry executed a seven-play, 86-yard drive resulting in a Leroy Wilson touchdown to tie the game. Following another West Georgia punt, a 41-yard Austin Williams field goal would give the Argos a 17-14 lead late after a penalty on UWG kept the drive alive.
As was the theme of the game, the two teams traded punts late, leaving the UWG offense 41 seconds to try to tie or win the ballgame. Targeting senior Shaq Roland, Candler would be picked off in the end zone by Marvin Conley on a controversial play that the UWG faithful thought should've warranted pass interference on the UWF defense.
Nevertheless, the Wolves' successful 2017 season came to an end at the hands of a red-hot conference foe. Candler gave all the props to UWF and the way it's really come on strong over the last month to even make the playoffs, let alone be in the national quarterfinals.
"They've been playing really well and a lot of it has to do with the confidence that they've been playing with lately," Candler said. "They're road warriors and they've proven that they can go get it done."