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
Share on Facebook