Florida Tech prediction

Six straight wins have put the North Alabama football team in position to win at least a share of the Gulf South Conference championship with a victory Saturday at Florida Tech. But can the Lions get up for this game after two consecutive emotional wins against Valdosta State and West Alabama?

Sure, it will be hard for the Lions to be up for a game against a first-year program like Florida Tech. But these players are hungry for a championship, so I just can’t see them falling flat and being upset by the Panthers.

Florida Tech is not a typical first-year program. The Panthers have had their coach in place for three years and have signed two recruiting classes. They are especially good on offense with a tough running back and a very talented wide receiver. Florida Tech narrowly lost to Newberry, which is the No. 1 seeded team in Super Region 2. The Panthers also played West Georgia tough last week before losing 28-14.

But UNA is on a roll right now. The Lions have been clicking on both sides of the ball over the past six weeks. The offense is showing remarkable balance and the defense is forcing turnovers. Put those together and you’re going to win a few games.

Look for more turnovers from the defense Saturday, perhaps even another one they convert into a touchdown. Offensively, the Lions should be able to run the ball and if Lamonte Thompson is healthy he could have a huge day against the Panthers. The offense will continue to stretch the field with long passes to Korey Jones and Jason Smith. That should open things up for the running game, and a big day from Thompson or Diamond Simmons.

UNA doesn’t need to mess around in this one. It needs to start fast and put Frloda Tech away. I expect the Lions to do that and win easily,  setting the stage for a huge regular-season finale at Tarleton State next week.

UNA 45, Florida Tech 13

 

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Lions move up in polls

Last Saturday’s big 30-27 overtime victory over West Alabama has put UNA back into the national rankings and moved the Lions up in the regional poll.
The Lions moved back into the Division II rankings Monday, coming in at No. 24 after last week’s 30-27 overtime victory over West Alabama. It is UNA’s first ranking since it was No. 24 before losing to Delta State on Sept. 21
More important for UNA is its move from No. 6 to No. 4 in the regional rankings. The Lions (6-2, 4-1 GSC) swapped places with West Alabama, as the Tigers fell from No. 4 to No. 6.

It appears almost a certainty that the GSC championship will be split this year. It would be a shock if UNA lost to Florida Tech or West Alabama lost to Shorter on Saturday. Delta State closes out its conference schedule the following week and will certainly be expected to best West Georgia in its season finale.
The big question is if the GSC races ends up in a three-way time will all three teams make the Division II playoffs?
Lenoir-Rhyne remains No. 1 in Super Region 2, followed by Newberry at No. 2 and UNC Pembroke at No. 3. UNA is No. 4, followed by Tuskegee and West Alabama. Delta State is No. 7 and Valdosta State is No. 10.

Only the top six teams in the region qualify for the Division II playoffs. The top two teams receive a first-round bye, while the No. 3 and 4 teams will host first-round playoff games. That means if the playoffs began today, UNA would host Tuskegee in a first-round game, while UNC Pembroke would host West Alabama. Delta State, at No. 7 in the region, would be left out of the playoff field.
Valdosta State can help out its conference rivals Saturday. If the Blazers can beat UNC-Pembroke it likely would open up another playoff slot for a GSC team.
With the loss to UNA, West Alabama fell out of the national rankings. UNA now is the only GSC team ranked in the AFCA Division II poll.

Wilson honored again
North Alabama senior linebacker Tavarius Wilson, of Jackson, Miss., has been honored as the Gulf South Conference Defensive Player of the Week for the third time this season after a stellar performance in last week’s 30-27 win over No. 20 West Alabama.
Wilson made 13 tackles against West Alabama and intercepted two passes in UNA’s come-from-behind win. He had eight solo tackles and five assists, one sack for six yards and two interceptions that he returned 10 yards. His first pick came at the UNA 2-yard line with 6:06 left in the third quarter to stop one UWA drive with the Tigers leading 24-17. His second interception came with 7:54 left in the game at the UNA seven with the game tied at 24.
Wilson is the leading tackler in the GSC with 10.9 stops per game. He was previously named GSC Defensive Player of the Week in UNA wins over West Georgia and Valdosta State earlier this season.

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West Alabama prediction

The UNA team that started off the season 1-2 now has a chance to win at least a share of the Gulf South Conference championship. The Lions (5-2, 3-1 GSC) face No. 20 West Alabama (6-2, 4-0) on Saturday in a game that will pretty much decide the conference champion. Kickoff is at 3 p.m., at Braly Stadium.

If West Alabama wins the Tigers clinch at least a share of the title. West Alabama has only Shorter left on its GSC schedule, so unless something really crazy happens the Tigers will be the outright champion if they beat UNA.

The Lions need a win to tie West Alabama atop the standings. If UNA does beat West Alabama and the two teams each win their final GSC games, then they will be co-champions. Delta State could also win a share of the title. The Statesmen play Valdosta State on Saturday. If Delta State and UNA each win, then it’s a three-way tie atop the standings. Delta State plays West Georgia in its final conference game.

UNA is coming off an amazing 57-7 victory over Valdosta State. The Lions certainly looked like a conference champion in that win as seemingly everything went right. It was the worst loss in Valdosta State history.

The Lions will need to play another near perfect game to beat West Alabama. The Tigers are a very explosive team offensively with two of the better quarterbacks in the conference in Kyle Caldwell and Gary Johnston. Watching Caldwell brings back memories of his coach, former UNA quarterback Will Hall, the 2003 Harlon Hill Trophy winner.

Caldwell is equally effective running the option or throwing. The Tigers also have outstanding running backs and receivers. It will be another huge test for UNA’s defense, which has improved each week since the early-season loss to Delta State.

The keys for UNA? Keep doing the the things it has been doing the past few weeks. That means the defense has to keep from giving up big plays and force turnovers. They must make West Alabama put together long drives to score and not give up the 50-yard touchdown strikes or the big runs on the option.

Offensively, the Lions must continue to have some success throwing long. The long passes loosen up the defense and open up the running game. UNA needs to put together some long drives and keep West Alabama’s offense on the sideline. The Lions cannot turn the ball over themselves.

It should be a great atmosphere at Braly Stadium and hopefully the game will live up to expectations. Like a lot of big games it could come down to a key play in the kicking game, such as a punt return by Philbert Martial. That could be the difference for the Lions.

UNA 33, West Alabama 31

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Lions 6th in region poll

UNA failed to move into the national rankings this week. The Lions did receive votes in the AFCA poll, but did not crack the Top 25.

The Lions, however, were ranked in a more important poll. The first NCAA regional rankings were released Monday, and the Lions are No. 6 in Super Region Two. Only the top six teams in each of the four regions qualify for the playoffs. The top two teams in each region earn a bye in the first round of the playoffs, while the No. 3 and No 4 teams will host a first-round playoff game Nov. 23.

The South Atlantic Conference has the top two rated teams in the region. Lenoir-Rhyne is No. 1, and Newberry is No. 2. North Carolina-Pembroke is No. 3, followed by West Alabama, Tuskegee and UNA. Delta State is No. 8, and Valdosta State is No. 9.
There is sure to be some movement in the rankings next week as West Alabama (6-2, 4-0 GSC) plays at UNA (5-2, 3-1) on Saturday in a matchup that will likely decide the Gulf South Conference champion.
A West Alabama win Saturday gives the Tigers the outright conference championship. If UNA can beat West Alabama, it would tie the Tigers for first place with one conference game remaining for each. Delta State could also tie for first with a win Saturday against Valdosta State and a UNA victory over West Alabama.
Wilson honored
North Alabama linebacker Tavarius Wilson has been named Gulf South Conference Defensive Player of the Week for the second time this season for his performance in the Lions’ 57-7 road win at Valdosta State.
Wilson, a native of Jackson, Miss., led UNA’s defensive effort against the 11th-ranked Blazers with 11 tackles, including eight solo stops. He also forced a fumble that UNA recovered and returned for a touchdown and blocked a Valdosta State field goal attempt.
Wilson also was named GSC Defensive Player of the Week for Oct. 14 for his performance against West Georgia.
He leads the Lions and the GSC with 74 tackles this season.

 

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Valdosta State predictiron

North Alabama puts its three-game winning streak on the line Saturday when the Lions (4-2, 2-1) play at Valdosta State (5-1, 3-1). Kickoff is at 1 p.m. in Valdosta, Ga.

This game will go a long way toward determining the playoff chances for each team. The Lions and the Blazers each have one conference loss and the loser of this game will pretty much be eliminated from the conference race. The loser will also have a tough time making the playoffs, although it could still happen.

So can UNA win this game against the defending Division II national champions?
Yes, if things go right. It’s the type of game that usually comes down to turnovers and a big play in the kicking game.

Here are a few keys for UNA.

1. Start fast. The Lions jumped on Texas A&M-Kingsville with 21 quick points last week and the game was all but over in the first eight minutes. While jumping out to that kind of lead against Valdosta State is unlikely, UNA needs to start quickly to gain confidence against the Blazers. Last year Valdosta State jumped out to a 21-0 lead and held on for a 24-21 victory. UNA simply can not afford to make mistakes early and let the Blazers get out to a big lead.

2. Eliminate big plays. Valdosta State’s offense has plenty of weapons with four outstanding receivers and two outstanding running backs. The Blazers like to throw the short passes and let the receivers make plays with their legs. This is what Delta State did to UNA and the Lions missed a lot of tackles, allowing the Statesmen to take control early. The Lions must make Valdosta State drive the field and and allow any long touchdown plays.

3. Turnovers. After not forcing a turnover in their first two games, the Lions now lead the GSC in turnover margin. The defense has intercepted nine passes in the past four games, returning four for touchdowns. That’s what needs to happen today for UNA to beat the Blazers. If the Lions can win the turnover battle and maybe take a turnover in for a score, they could pull off the upset.

4. Use both quarterbacks. UNA is getting outstanding quarterback play from starter Luke Wingo and backup Jacob Tucker. Both could play a key role today. While Wingo needs to be sharp throwing the ball, Tucker’s speed could be a real weapon. Valdosta State’s defense really struggled stopping West Alabama’s quarterbacks from running in their loss to the Tigers. If Tucker can make some big plays with his scrambling ability it should loosen up the defense and allow UNA’s offense to put up some big numbers.

So there are the keys for UNA. But can the Lions make it happen?
They can, but they will have to play a near flawless game. It should be an great game to watch and will likely come down to the fourth quarter. In the end, I just think the Blazers have too many weapons.

Valdosta State 30, UNA 27

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Blazers up next

It’s safe to say that the next two games will determine North Alabama’s hopes for making the Division II playoffs. The Lions face No. 11 Valdosta State on Saturday and then host No. 21 West Alabama on Nov. 2. Those two games will likely determine the Gulf South Conference champion and the top playoff contenders.

West Alabama leads the conference with a 3-0 record. The Tigers beat Valdosta State two weeks ago to assume control of the conference race. West Alabama is not a lock to repeat as conference champions, but is certainly in the driver’s seat right now.

If UNA can beat Valdosta State it puts itself back in the race. The Lions would then have a chance to claim a share of the conference championship with a victory over West Alabama.
But a loss Saturday puts UNA in a tough situation. It would certainly eliminate UNA from the conference race and would put the Lions in a must-win situation against West Alabama to get into the playoffs.

One thing UNA has in its favor is that its loss to Jacksonville State in Week 2 does not count in the region records. That means the Lions would likely make the playoffs, even with three losses provided they can knock off either Valdosta State or West Alabama,  and win their final two games against Florida Tech and Tarleton State.

UNA is getting hot at the right time. The Lions have shown steady improvement since the Week 3 loss to Delta State. Last week’s victory over Texas A&M-Kingsville may have bee UNA’s best game of the season. The Lions should remember, however, that after last year’s victory over the Javelinas they went out and lost their final four games to finish 5-5.

Making the playoffs will still be tough for UNA, but at least the team has put itself in position to do it. Now it’s just a matter of going out and getting it done.

INJURY UPDATE

Sophomore cornerback Jalen Reedus will miss the Valdosta State game with a high ankle sprain suffered in last week’s win against Texas A&M-Kingsville. Reedus, who started all but one game this season, could miss next week’s game against West Alabama as well.
Meanwhile, sophomore running back Lamonte Thompson appears ready to go this week. Thompson missed the West Georgia game and played in just one series against the Javelinas last week. Also, senior defensive end Dimitri Orr is expected to play Saturday. Orr missed last week’s game with a strained MCL.

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Texas A&M-Kingsville prediction

North Alabama will try to keep its momentum going Saturday when the Lions host Texas A&M-Kingsville. Kickoff at Braly Stadium is at 6 p.m.

The Lions faces something of a crossroad two weeks ago. Back-to-back losses to Jacksonville State and Delta State put UNA in a must-win situation heading into the Shorter game. The Lions responded with a 41-0 victory and followed that up with an impressive 38-21 victory over West Georgia last week.
Making the playoffs is still a long shot for this team, but it has responded well and kept those hopes alive.  The Lions still control their own destiny as far as the Gulf South Conference race is concerned. We’ll find out if they can play with the other top teams in the conference the next two weeks when UNA plays at Valdosta State and then hosts West Alabama.

But right now the only game that matters is Texas A&M-Kingsville. A loss to the Javelinas all but ends any hopes UNA has of making the playoffs, short of winning out and claiming the GSC championship.
Kingsville (2-3) opened the season with two wins, but enters Saturday’s game with a three-game losing streak. The Javelinas have been outscored 153-45 in those three losses. While that does not guarantee UNA a win, it certainly appears that this is a team the Lions should handle. The Javelinas give up big plays in every phase of the game, something the Lions must exploit. Kingsville is struggling to find its identity on offense and has started three different quarterbacks this season.

Still, Kingsville is a team with a proud tradition and it plays in a top-notch conference in the Lone Star. If the Lions do not come out focused, the Javelinas are certainly capable of handing them a loss. Kingsville outplayed UNA last year only to see a 93-yard interception return by Caleb Massey turn the game in the Lions’ favor.

The key for UNA? Keep doing what it has been doing the past two weeks. That includes forcing turnovers on defense and controlling the line of scrimmage offensively. The insertion of guard Justin Booth in the starting lineup has paid big dividends for the offense, as has the plan to play back-up quarterback Jacob Tucker on the third series of each half. Tucker’s speed at quarterback gives the offense an added dimension.

I expect the Lions to throw a little more today, so Luke Wingo could have a big day. The Lions need to take control early and not let the Javelinas hang around and gain confidence as the game goes on. I say UNA takes care of business and sets up a huge game next week at Valdosta State.

UNA 34, Texas A&M-Kingsville 16

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Lions face Javelinas

North Alabama has another interesting test this week as the Lions host Texas A&M-Kingsville on Saturday. Kickoff at Braly Stadium is at 6 p.m.

The Lions and the Javelinas have a history that goes back to the 1993 season. That was the season UNA won its first Division II championship. In the semifinals the Lions earned a hard-fought 27-25 victory that moved them into the championship game.
One year later, the two teams met again, this time in the national championship game. UNA got a big interception late from Ronald McKinnon to preserve a 16-10 victory and its second straight national championship.

Several players from that 1993 team will be at Saturday’s game as UNA celebrates the 20th anniversary of its first national championship. The team will be honored at halftime. Many of the players on the 1993 team also played on the 1994 championship team.

As for this year’s Javelinas, they are struggling. After getting off to a 2-0 start, Texas A&M-Kingsville has lost three straight. The losses have been bad ones, too. It started with a 69-7 drubbing by West Texas A&M and followed with a 43-10 loss to Midwestern State. Last week the Javelinas lost 31-28 to Texas A&M-Commerce.

That’s not to say that this team can not win Saturday. The Javelinas have struggled to find a consistent player at quarterback, starting three different players in five games. The team showed last year against UNA that it was still capable of playing well. Kingsville finished with 393 yards of total offense to just 244 for UNA as the Lions escaped with a 21-16 victory in Kingsville. Caleb Massey’s school-record 93-yard interception return for a touchdown completely threw the momentum in UNA’s favor.

UNA is now 5-0 all-time against Kingsville. That’s impressive because the Javelinas have won seven NAIA championships and played in the Division II playoffs 15 times, including playing in the semifinals seven times. The school has produced four Division II Hall of Famers, including three-time Harlon Hill Trophy winner Johnny Bailey. Former Javelinas Gene Upshaw, Darrell Green and John Randle are each members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The Lions, however, can’t worry about what Kingsville has done in the past. All that matters is coming away with a win Saturday. UNA has put itself back in the playoff hunt with two straight wins, but cannot afford another region loss, especially to a 2-3 team.
It should be an interesting matchup. Hope to see you at Braly Stadium.

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West Georgia prediction

UNA will celebrate homecoming Saturday as the Lions take on West Georgia. Kickoff is at
6 p.m. at Braly Stadium.
This will not be a typical homecoming opponent for the Lions. West Georgia is a very good team, bringing a 4-1 overall record and a 1-0 GSC record into the matchup. The Wolves manhandled UNA in 2012, rushing for more than 300 yards in a 38-23 victory in Carrollton, Ga.

The Lions (2-2, 1-1 GSC) must beat West Georgia to stay alive in the Gulf South Conference race. A loss would also likely put an end to UNA’s playoff hopes only halfway through the season.

The key for UNA is stopping the run. West Georgia ran all over the Lions last year, exposing a defense that has been hard by injuries. The defense is much-improved this year and has done a good job shutting down the run in the first four games. UNA has yet to allow a rushing touchdown this season. If the Lions can put West Georgia in some third-and-long situations they have a chance to force some turnovers because the Wolves are not a throwing team. Of course, last year in those third-and-long situations the Wolves simply ran the ball and made one first down after another.

UNA’s defense was outstanding last week in the 41-0 victory over Shorter. West Georgia, however, is a much better team than Shorter.
As for the offense, UNA needs to do like it did last week, which is to complete some passes early to loosen up the defense and then come back with the running game. The offense also must eliminate the mistakes it has been making, such as turnovers, penalties and high snaps from center.

Just when it appeared the Lions had solved their field goal problems they might be back at square one. Will Craig, who was 2 for 2 on field goals last week, pulled a groin muscle in practice and is questionable for the game. That could mean using a true freshman kicker – not something the Lions want to try.

It should be a good game and the team that can avoid turnovers and slow down the opposing running game should come out on top. UNA needs to respond today and I feel like it will.

UNA 27, West Georgia 23

 

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Injury update

North Alabama running back Lamonte Thompson practiced with the team Thursday and it now appears he has a good chance of playing in Saturday’s homecoming game against West Georgia.
Thompson leads the Lions in rushing with 296 yards on 41 carries. The sophomore from Florence suffered a high ankle sprain in last week’s 41-0 victory over Shorter. Thompson was injured in the first half and did not return. He was on crutches after the game and was still in a boot earlier this week. Coach Bobby Wallace said Thompson is probable for Saturday’s game.

Meanwhile, UNA’s kicking game could see another change after Will Craig suffered a pulled groin muscle early in the week. Craig, who was 2 for 2 on field goals in his first start against Shorter, is questionable for Saturday. He took over for senior Michael Schuster, who made just 2 of 8 field goal attempts through the first three games.
If Craig is unable to go Saturday, Wallace said he would likely go with true freshman Joseph Pedraza on short field goals, with Schuster handling the longer kicks. Pedraza is a walk-on from Walker High School in Jasper

UNA also could be without backup center Trey Tidwell on Saturday. Tidwell suffered a bone bruise on his knee against Shorter and has not practiced this week. Wallace said Tidwell is doubtful for Saturday, although he did not rule out him playing. If Tidwell is unable to go true freshman Lawrence Carmichael would be the backup center. Carmichael, who played at Florence High School, has yet to see action in a game.

 

 

 

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