The Keiser University football program continued to make history Saturday, Nov. 23 in front of a capacity crowd by hosting the first round of the NAIA playoffs in just its second official season. The Seahawks fell 28-24 to the Cumberlands University Patriots from Kentucky in a fierce performance from both teams.
Keiser brought an unblemished 9-0 regular season record into the contest and the title of conference champions. The Patriots entered with a 9-1 record.
In the wake of the emotional defeat, head coach Doug Socha, was extremely proud of his players. “We’re proud of this football team, and this doesn’t define what we did this year,” he said. “We have great character, great talent in the locker room, and we had great expectations to try to compete and win every game.”
The Seahawks program relies heavily on local talent. A few of the game’s impact players were local high school alumni. Defensive back Sage Chen-Young, a 2017 Wellington High School graduate, had two pass break-ups in the end zone against Cumberlands and forced an interception. Chen-Young’s season performance has earned him first team all-conference and defensive player of the year.
2017 Royal Palm Beach High School alum Treykavian Gilbert plays on the defensive line for the Seahawks and used his explosive quickness from the outside to pressure the Patriot quarterback most of the game. Kicker and punter Logan Robinson is a 2017 graduate of Wellington High School. He combined for three extra points and a 29-yard field goal in the playoff game.
The Seahawks went three-and-out on their initial possession and found themselves trailing 7-0 in first quarter. With 8:16 remaining in the first half, quarterback Eli Mathews connected with receiver Jaylen Arnold on a 23-yard touchdown pass. Robinson’s point-after kick tied the game at 7-7. Both defensive units made it difficult to sustain consistent offensive play. The Patriots drove into the Keiser red zone and tested Chen-Young, but the stand-out defensive back broke up two pass plays and forced an interception, which forced the Cumberlands offense to look elsewhere on the field to move the rock.
The Seahawks led at halftime 14-7 after Mathews linked up with Arnold for the second time on a 14-yard touchdown pass.
The Patriots capped a 71-yard drive on their opening possession of the second half with a 28-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 14-14. Keiser recaptured the lead when Mathews ran to the outside on a keeper, found room and sprinted down the sideline 43 yards for the score. Robinson’s kick made it 21-14 with 6:50 remaining in the third quarter. Cumberlands responded by covering 80 yards of real estate to drive in a short touchdown run to tie it up 21-21 late in the third quarter.
With the Seahawks facing a fourth-and-three in the fourth quarter, Robinson put up a 29-yard field goal through the sticks to push Keiser back into the lead 24-21. The Patriots took just over three minutes to drive 81 yards to steal the lead 28-24 with a one-yard rushing touchdown.
The Seahawks drove down the field, inside the Patriot 29-yard line, but an interception in the end zone gave Cumberlands the ball with less than two minutes to play. The Patriots were able to move the chains once, eating up the clock and securing the 28-24 win to advance to the next round. The loss ended the Seahawks’ postseason run.
“Really, no regrets. I wish we could have had a couple more play calls offensively, but it is what it is,” Socha said. “Again, you get in these competitive games, and there’s one, two or three plays that make a difference. It hurts for the seniors, but they play, practice and fight for each other. We have to move on to the next phase. It should drive us inside. We should be motivated to get back in this position, because it’s fun to get into the playoffs and have a chance to play for a national championship.”