Big wins for Lions

The North Alabama men’s and women’s basketball teams each picked up a nice win Thursday night against visiting Valdosta State.

The men got 24 points and 14 rebounds from Calvin Dade in routing the Blazers 97-69 at Flowers Hall. Dade did most of his damage in the second half, scoring 14 points. He also finished the game with three assists and a blocked shot. Three other UNA players also reached double digits in scoring, including Rashaun Claiborne with 18 points . Wes Long with 14 points while Bruce Adams  with 12 points.

With the win, UNA improved to 9-4 overall and 3-2 in Gulf South Conference play.

Meanwhile the UNA women held on for a 51-49 victory over the Blazers. Valdosta State’s Kamyia Smith missed the front end of a one-and-one opportunity with less than a second remaining to give UNA the win.

Delisa Madry hit four 3-pointers in the second half to spark the Lions, who trailed 22-18 at halftime. Lauren Faris led UNA with 15 points, including two free throws with 11 seconds remaining that put the Lions up 51-47.

UNA is now 8-3 overall and 3-2 in GSC play.

Both UNA teams will be at home again Saturday against West Florida. Tip-off is 1 p.m. for the women and 3 p.m. for the men.

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Lenoir-Rhyne prediction

Greetings from North Carolina. I’m in the Tar Heel state for the second week in a row to cover North Alabama’s NCAA Division II quarterfinal playoff game against Lenoir-Rhyne.

UNA is now just two wins away from playing for a national championship. And the way the Lions played last week in beating North  Carolina Pembroke 37-13, getting to that title game looks promising.

The next hurdle in UNA’s way is Lenoir-Rhyne. The Bears are the South Atlantic Conference champion and were awarded the No. 1 seed in Super Region 2, while UNA is the No. 3 seed. The Bears had to rally to win their first playoff game last week, beating conference rival Carson-Newman 27-20. Lenoir-Rhyne has now won 11 straight since dropping its season opener.

It’s an interesting matchup because the SAC has not enjoyed much success in the playoffs in the past. Carson-Newman has advanced to the Division II championship game twice, losing both times. Other than that, the SAC has not fared well, especially against teams from the Gulf South Conference. That’s why it was disturbing to see three teams from the SAC included in the six teams chosen for the playoffs, while UNA was the only GSC team picked. Clearly, West Alabama is still the best Division II team the Lions have played this season. A UNA-West Alabama rematch would have been a great game for the quarterfinals.

But Lenoir-Rhyne is the opponent. So what does UNA need to do to win its 10th straight game? That’s easy. The key to beating the Bears is slowing down their running game, which leads the nation at 371 yards per game. That’s easier said than done, but my hunch is the Lions will find a way to get it done.

Go back to the fourth game of the season. The Lions completely shut down Shorter’s option game in a 41-0 victory. UNA will see a very similar offense from Lenoir-Rhyne, although the Bears are obviously a much-better team than Shorter.

The key for the Lions is to get off to a good start. The offense needs to strike quickly and get the lead. The option is not a good offense to play catch-up in, but if the Bears can grab the lead and play keep-away from UNA, they have a chance to knock off the Lions. UNA’s defense has thrived on interceptions, but Lenoir-Rhyne likely won’t throw more than four of five passes, so the defense has to force punts and keep the Bears from breaking a big play.

I expect a tight game in the first half before the Lions pull away in the second half and advance to the semifinals.

UNA 34, Lenoir-Rhyne 17


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UNA-Lenoir-Rhyne on video

Good news for UNA football fans that will not be able to make the trip to Hickory, N.C. for Saturday’s Division II playoff quarterfinal game against Lenoir-Rhyne.

The game  can be seen on the internet on the Bears’ video stream at There will also be a link from the UNA Athletics website at to the video stream. Kickoff for Saturday’s game is 11 a.m.

UNA brings an nine-game winning streak into Saturday’s game, while Lenoir-Rhyne has won 11 straight. This will be the first meeting between the two teams.
The Bears run the triple-option and lead Division II in rushing at 371.8 yards per game. Their defense allows just 315.5 yards and 14.3 points per game.

The Lions, meanwhile, average 39.8 points per game and 187.3 yards rushing. UNA’s defense leads the nation with 29 interceptions, including six it has returned for touchdowns.

The winner of Saturday’s game will play the winner of the West Chester at Shepherd game in next week’s semifinals. The site for that game will be determined by the NCAA Division II playoff committee.

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UNC Pembroke prediction

Hello from North Carolina.

I arrived early Friday afternoon for Saturday’s second-round NCAA Division II playoff game between North Alabama and North Carolina Pembroke. From looking at the various matchups, this one has a chance to be a great game.

UNA faces a big challenge on both sides of the ball against the Braves.
UNC Pembroke has one of the nation’s top quarterbacks in senior Luke Charles, who is one of nine finalists for the Harlon Hill Trophy, which goes to the top player in Division II football. Charles is averaging more than 300 yards passing per game and has thrown 31 touchdown passes. The Braves have an outstanding group of wide receivers and a running back with outstanding quickness.
Making UNA’s task even tougher is the fact that it will be playing without All-GSC strong safety Caleb Massey, who was lost for the season in last week’s victory over Tuskegee. Charles will test the UNA secondary early, but remember, this defense has intercepted 24 passes in its last nine games. The Lions had great success against Valdosta State and Tarleton State, which each run the short passing game offense used by UNC Pembroke.

The UNA offense will be going against a Braves’ defense which allows only 91 yards per game rushing. While the Lions have shown the ability to win games with the pass, they still want to establish the run and then beat the defense with play-action passes. It will be interesting to see how the offense attacks this defense. If Chris Coffey and Lamonte Thompson can get the running game going early then the passing game will open up as well and the offense should put up some big numbers.

UNC Pembroke is somewhat of a mystery team because it is an independent. The Braves have a victory over Valdosta State, along with a loss to Newberry. It will be interesting to see how the Braves do against another Gulf  South Conference team. It would not be surprising to see Pembroke join the GSC in the near future, probably as just a member in football.

As for the game? While Charles and the Pembroke offense have been almost unstoppable this season I doubt they have seen a defense as strong as UNA’s. The Lions will no doubt go with five defensive backs most of the time and dare the Braves to run the ball. If UNA can continue to force turnovers it should win this game. I also expect the Pembroke defense to have a hard time slowing down UNA’s balanced offense. In the end, UNA advances to the quarterfinals.

UNA 44, UNC Pembroke 35

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Lions dealing with injuries

It is remarkable that the North Alabama football team went almost the entire regular season without a serious injury to any regular players. It was just one year ago that the team seemed to deal with a season-ending injury every week.

This year has been different. There have been a few nagging injuries, but nothing major. Lamonte Thompson missed one game and was limited in two others due to a high ankle sprain. That was about it for the offense until starting tight end Mabry Cook went down in the regular-season finale at Tarleton State with a torn tendon in his foot. Cook is out for the remainder of the season.

Defensively, Dimitri Orr missed one game with a knee injury and Jalen Reedus has missed five games with an ankle sprain.
But last week the Lions suffered a big blow when strong safety Caleb Massey torn ligaments in his ankle. Massey missed the second half of the Lions’ playoff win against Tuskegee and is out for the season. Backup linebacker Jerome White was also lost for the season when he suffered torn ligaments in his knee.
Both losses are big for the defense. Massey is one of the top safeties in the country and a real leader in the secondary. He will be missed, although the Lions have more than a capable backup in sophomore Floyd Jones. White will also be missed because the depth at linebacker behind starters Tavarius Wilson, Gabe Poe and Brion James is almost non-existent.
Defensive end John Lattimore also missed most of the Tuskegee game with a foot injury. Lattimore’s status for Saturday’s playoff game at North Carolina Pembroke will likely be a gametime decision.

Massey’s loss came at a bad time with the Lions facing the best quarterback they have seen all year in UNC Pembroke’s Luke Charles, who is one of nine finalists for the Harlon Hill Trophy. Jones has the potential to be an All-American just like Massey, so the secondary should be fine, although it can hardly afford to suffer any more serious injuries.

Sophomore Grant Lake did a fine job in place of Cook last week. Of course Lake has played extensively this year as the Lions often played with two tight ends. Fullback Chris Coffey is being used much like a tight end in some packages and he is an outstanding blocker.

Remember, kickoff is at 11 a.m. on Saturday.

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Tuskegee prediction

It’s playoff time as UNA plays host to Tuskegee in the opening round of the Division II playoffs Saturday at noon.

Today’s matchup has many story lines. It’s the first playoff game in the history of Tuskegee, which used to sacrifice the playoffs to play in the annual Thanksgiving Day game against Alabama State, which was known as the Turkey Bowl. The game also has UNA coach Bobby Wallace taking on another former assistant in Tuskegee’s Willie Slater, who served as UNA’s offensive coordinator during the Lions’ run of three consecutive Division II national championships from 1993-95. Slater spent eight years at UNA and also coached under Wallace at Temple for two years.

UNA should not really be playing a game today. The Lions were clearly deserving of the No. 2 seed in the region and a bye week. However, the NCAA in its infinite wisdom decided North Carolina-Pembroke deserved the No. 2 seed, despite having one less Division II win than UNA. I’m sure the fact that the NCAA could save money by having Tuskegee make the bus ride to Florence instead of chartering a plane to North Carolina had nothing to do with the decision. But enough about that.

UNA brings a seven-game winning streak into the playoffs. The Lions are playing about as well as anyone in the country right now. The offense is clicking, the defense is forcing turnovers and the special teams have been solid. Combine those three each week and you will win a lot of games.

Tuskegee has shown remarkable balance offensively, but the key to the Golden Tigers is their ability to run the football. If they can establish the run early and keep UNA’s offense off the field they might have a chance to pull off the upset.

As for UNA, it just needs to continue to do the things it has been doing during the winning streak. Don’t turn the ball over on offense, force some turnovers defensively and don’t allow big plays.

Tuskegee has a fine team, but this UNA team has too many weapons for the Golden Tigers to contend with. Unless the Lions self-destruct, they should be on their way to North Carolina next week.

UNA 45, Tuskegee 20

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Another honor for Wilson

UNA linebacker Tavarius Wilson picked up another huge honor Wednesday when he was named Gulf South Conference Defensive Player of the Year.

The senior from Jackson, Miss. led the GSC in tackles with 98 total stops and has earned three GSC Defensive Player of the Week awards this season. Last week Wilson was announced as one of 28 candidates for the 2013 Harlon Hill Trophy and is the only defensive player up for the award.

Wilson leads 13 UNA players on the All-GSC squad. That list includes Freshman Defensive Player of the Year Philbert Martial. Martial has made 29 tackles with one tackle for loss and two interceptions that he returned for 65 yards and one touchdown. He also has 660 return yards and 736 all-purpose yards this season. He is the second straight UNA player to earn the award, safety Floyd Jones was the 2012 Freshman Defensive Player of the Year.

In addition to Wilson, UNA players earning first-team All-GSC include: senior center Tyler Sizemore; senior running back Chris Coffey; senior tight end/long snapper Mabry Cook; junior defensive tackle Taylor Carney; senior linebacker Gabe Poe and senior safety Caleb Massey.

Selected to the All-GSC second team were; sophomore running back Lamonte Thompson; senior wide receiver Jason Smith; senior offensive lineman David Lundberg; senior offensive lineman Kenston Redfern; junior offensive tackle Keith Jones and senior linebacker Brion James.

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Tarleton State prediction

My flight arrived in Dallas for Saturday’s regular-season finale between North Alabama and Tarleton State. Still have about a two-hour drive to Stephenville, Texas, home of Tarleton State. The team left Thursday for the long bus ride. They drove to Little Rock, Ark., on Thursday and on to Forth Worth on Friday.

In case you missed it, West Georgia defeated Delta State on Thursday night. That knocked Delta State out of a potential three-way tie for the Gulf South Conference championship. Instead, UNA and West Alabama will share the title. The loss also cost Delta State any shot it had of making the Division II playoffs.

UNA still controls its own destiny as far as the playoffs go. If the Lions beat Tarleton State they will be no worse than a No. 3 seed in Super Region 2. That means they would host the No. 6 seed in a first-round playoff game next week.

There is a chance UNA could move up to No. 2 in the region with a win because it would finish with more Division II wins than current No. 2 seed North Carolina-Pembroke. If the Lions lose to Tarleton State on Saturday, anything is possible.

Common sense says UNA would still make the playoffs, although it would likely fall to the No. 5 or No. 6 seed and have to travel for a first-round game. You never know what will happen when the the region committee meets to come up with the six playoff teams, so it is possible that UNA could fall out of the top six with a loss Saturday and miss the playoffs.
The bottom line is UNA needs to win to take away any chance of being left out of the playoffs. The Lions have won six in a row and they need to win and keep that momentum going into the playoffs.
As for Saturday’s game, look for plenty of scoring. Tarleton State has an explosive offense, averaging 335 yards passing per game. UNA’s offense is just as explosive, averaging more than 40 points per game. The Lions will face a defense that is allowing 435 yards and 27.2 points per game.
To win, UNA simply needs to continue doing the things it has been doing during the six-game winning streak. That includes having great balance offensively and forcing turnovers on defense. The defense gave up a lot of yards, but also forced six turnovers in last week’s victory over Florida Tech. If it can again force two or three turnovers and the offense can continue to be balanced, UNA has a great chance to come away with a win and be in prime position for a playoff run.
Look for a tight game with UNA pulling away in the second half.

UNA 38, Tarleton State 28

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Big honor for Wilson

In the history of the Harlon Hill Trophy there has only been one defensive player to win the award. That player was UNA linebacker Ronald McKinnon, in 1995.

Now, 18 years later, another UNA linebacker is in the running for the Hill Trophy.
Senior linebacker Tavarius Wilson  is one of 28 candidates for the Hill Trophy, awarded to the top player in Division II football. The 28 initial candidates will be placed on regional ballots and the top two players from each of the four NCAA regions will advance to the national ballot when regional voting concludes on Nov. 22.

Wilson is very deserving of this award. After being named All-America last season as a middle linebacker, he made the move to outside linebacker this season and has not missed a beat. Wilson is a hard worker and a total team player. It’s nice to see such a fine young man be rewarded for his hard work.

The winner of the 2013 award, which is presented by the National Harlon Hill Award Committee, will be announced at the 28th annual Harlon Hill Trophy Presentation Banquet on Friday, Dec. 20 at the Florence Conference Center at 6:30 p.m.

Wilson leads the Gulf South Conference in tackles for the second year in a row with 96 total stops entering Saturday’s final regular season game at Tarleton State. He leads the Lions in sacks (4.0) and ranks second with three interceptions. Wilson has also forced two fumbles and blocked a field goal.

Included in the list of candidates for the 2013 Hill Trophy are 2012 winner Zach Zulli of Shippensburg, third-place finisher Franklyn Quiteh of Bloomsburg and sixth-place finisher Kevin Rodgers of Henderson State. West Alabama quarterback Kyle Caldwell is also a candidate.

The 28 initial candidates will be placed on regional ballots and the top two players from each of the four NCAA regions will advance to the national ballot when regional voting concludes on Nov. 22.

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Lions No. 3 in region

North Alabama is now ranked No. 3 in Super Region 2 after the Lions defeated Florida Tech 55-28 last Saturday.  UNA closes out its regular season Saturday at Tarleton State.
Lenoir-Rhyne remained No. 1 in the region with North Carolina-Pembroke moving up to No. 2. Carson-Newman is No. 4 in the rankings, followed by Newberry and West Alabama. Tuskegee fell to No. 7 after its loss to Miles, and Delta State is No. 8. Only the top six teams in the region qualify for the Division II playoffs.

If the season ended today, UNA would host a first-round playoff game against the No. 6 team in the region. Although that team is now West Alabama, it is possible that one of the teams from the SIAC will jump West Alabama because of ‘earned access.’ That could result in Tuskegee or Miles moving into the playoffs.

A lot of things can happen, but we’ll just have to wait till this weekend and see how it all plays out.

The Lions (7-2, 5-1 GSC) moved up from No. 24 to No. 20 in the national poll and remain the only Gulf South Conference team in the rankings.

Poe, Martial honored
North Alabama senior linebacker Gabe Poe and freshman kick returner Philbert Martial have been honored by the Gulf South Conference for their respective performances in the Lions’ 55-28 road win at Florida Tech.
Poe was named GSC Defensive Player of the Week. Martial, from Mobile, was named GSC Special Teams Player of the Week.
For his part, Poe helped spearhead UNA’s defensive effort against Florida Tech that produced six turnovers. He made 11 tackles, assisted on a tackle for loss, had an interception that he returned 13 yards and broke-up two passes. Poe also earned GSC Defensive Player of the Week honors this season after a 21-tackle performance against Delta State on Sept. 21.
Martial earned his first GSC Special Teams Player of the Week award with 115 yards on three kickoff returns with a long of 64 yards. His returns helped spark three UNA touchdown drives.

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