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Fired up defensive effort propels Argos into final four

It marks the third time in the six-year history of the program that the Argos (12-1) have reached the national semifinals. Saturday’s win, the 12th in postseason play in those six years, is merely a continuation of success for a program that hasn’t missed a beat too often in its existence.

UWF was the national runner-up in 2017, the national champ in 2019 and this year’s story is still being written.

“It’s really been different groups each time. I’m proud of what these guys have done,” UWF head coach Pete Shinnick said. “UWF is an amazing place. We continue to find the right pieces to make this program what it is. We feel we have an opportunity to be one of the better teams every year.”

Often, it’s the offense that steals the headlines. The Argos, after all, have put up 40 or more points nine times in 2022.

But it was the defense’s turn to steal the show, and boy, did they ever. UWF picked off three passes and returned them for touchdowns, tying an NCAA record, and the Argos also scored off a fumble recovery. They forced six turnovers in all.

“It’s one of the best, if not the best defensive effort I’ve seen in my life. I’m fired up about that,” Shinnick said.

Perhaps the craziest thing of it all about the performance is that the Argos scored three touchdowns off turnovers in the third quarter. Kelvin Johnson returned a fumble 37 yards for a score just 20 seconds into the third and Keon Voisin picked off an interception and ran it back 64 yards for a score a little over two minutes later.

Kode Lowe’s 31-yard pick six with 6:59 to go in the quarter gave the Argos a commanding 45-7 lead over the No. 22 Bulldogs (11-3), who were in a national quarterfinal for the first time.

Peewee Jarrett runs for extra yards.

Will Breland, who also picked off a pass in the win, kept his description of the defensive effort simple.

“It was definitely something special. I’ve never seen something like that,” Breland said.

Because the defense dominated the third quarter, the Argo offense basically took the third quarter off.

“I saw a stat I was really disappointed in the offense with, that we only had the ball 56 seconds in the third quarter,” Shinnick said with a laugh. “I’ve never seen a third quarter like what we had.”

On a mostly sunny and warm December afternoon on the campus of UWF, a capacity crowd of 4,247 on hand to watch the game, the Argos came to the field looking to extend their win streak to 10 games.

Things started slow. Wingate scored first with 4:42 to play in the first before Pewee Jarrett found David Durden on a 35-yard scoring strike with 12:19 to play in the second that tied the game at 7-7.

UWF led just 10-7 with 4:48 to play in the half when the momentum swung in decisive fashion.

Anthony Johnson picked off a pass and ran it 36 yards to the end zone to put the Argos up 17-7.

“It was a big play,” Johnson said. “We needed it. Sometimes you have to make plays, and you do what you have to do.”

That seemed to spark the Argos, who closed the half with Jarrett’s 5-yard toss to Jakobe Quillen as time expired, giving UWF a 24-7 lead at the half.

Then the third quarter happened and any chance Wingate had of a comeback was wiped out by a defensive effort for the ages by the Argos.

“It was a heck of a day by the defense,” Shinnick said.

UWF finished with 268 yards while the Bulldogs rolled up 318.

And now the Argos get ready for a trip to Michigan to take on reigning national champion Ferris State, the same team UWF had to beat in 2019 on the road to get to the title game. The winner plays in two weeks at McKinney ISD Stadium in Texas for the title.

Jarrett is thankful to be a part of another special run for UWF, especially in the junior college transfer’s first year in the program.

“This is my first time in the playoffs. I wanted to be a factor and help this team win games. It’s been a blessing to do it,” Jarrett said.

Shinnick is proud of his team for continuing to be successful no matter what comes its way.

“Our guys have found ways to get it done,” Shinnick said. “These guys here just keep believing.”

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