UNA avenges playoff loss to Statesmen
No. 2 Lions improve to 7-0 on season
By Mark Edwards
FLORENCE — Sweat dripped off North Alabama quarterback A.J. Milwee's face, and his strained knee was hurting him, causing him to limp off the Braly Stadium turf.
But he had a big smile on his face. A big, ol' we-got-revenge grin.
Milwee's Lions beat Delta State 28-17 at home Thursday night — exactly 330 days since the Statesmen dominated the Lions on this same field and eliminated them from the NCAA Division II quarterfinals.
"We had a chip on our shoulder," said Milwee, who completed 15 of 29 passes for 210 yards, no interceptions and two touchdowns. "We wanted to pay this bunch back. It's the same way they wanted to pay us back last year when we beat them in the regular season."
Even more than revenge, however, this win helped prove that UNA has the moxey to compete for a third straight Gulf South Conference championship and a spot in the NCAA playoffs.
The Lions entered as the No. 2 team in the Division II coaches poll, while Delta State was No. 3. However, in the Southeast Region poll, which affects the NCAA playoff bids, the Statesmen are No. 1, followed by once-beaten Valdosta State, while UNA is third.
"This means we should get some respect now," said UNA receiver Jason Messing, who caught a 40-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter.
"This shows the voters what we can do. We shouldn't be No. 3 in the region."
UNA (7-0) won this one with a blocked punt, a successful fake punt and a defense that intercepted five passes and recovered a fumble.
After Delta State (6-1) couldn't make a first down on the opening drive of the game, the Lions went after the punt. UNA freshman Jusmon Rivers blocked it cleanly, and teammate Jonathan Douglas picked it up and raced 10 yards for a touchdown. It gave the Lions a 7-0 lead, and they never trailed after that.
UNA coach Mark Hudspeth said his coaches noticed a Delta State guard wasn't blocking like he should on punt protection.
"We found a weakness," Hudspeth said, "and went after it. That play was big."
After forcing Delta State to punt again, UNA faced its own fourth down three plays later.
On fourth-and-two at the Delta State 42, UNA snapped the ball to the upback (Douglas) instead of the punter. Douglas rushed to the 8, and on the next play, Milwee put the Lions up 14-0 on an 8-yard scoring pass to David McCants.
Delta State rallied to within four points and 21-17 with 6:45 to play in the third period. But after that, the Statesmen had the ball six times and threw four interceptions, punted once and lost a fumble once.
UNA scored on one of the interceptions when Anton Bowen returned it 40 yards for touchdown. That gave the Lions a 28-17 advantage with 4:43 to play.
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