On a Thursday filled with excitement for the first home football game of the year, the North Alabama Lions football team sent fans home happy and left the competition proving a point heard loud and clear following a 26-17 win over heavily favored Western Illinois.
The Lions had a 4.4 win probability according to ESPN and were a 19-point underdog to win the game. Instead, the Lions never trailed the game once and had control over their opponent throughout.
Starting late in the first quarter, North Alabama senior quarterback Christian Lopez drove the team down the field and scores on a two-yard TD run to give the Lions an early 6-0 lead at the 2:24 point in first quarter. They would only need exactly seven minutes to up their lead to 9-0 early in the second following Joe Gurley’s career long field goal at 48 yards. UNA shows their power to produce explosive plays as two significant plays helps certify the outcome.
The first came from a connection between Lopez and Cortez Hall on a 75-yard TD pass after Western Illinois got on the board with a TD and point after late in the second. The catch would be one of Hall’s two on the night in which he racked up 113 yards receiving and made the only receiving TD for the Lions on the night giving the Lions a 16-7 advantage late in the second.
Lopez would finish the night going 17-32 with 290 passing yards. A punt was blocked by Western Illinois into their end zone allowing them to trim the UNA’s lead to 16-14 with 1:39 left just before the field goal. Gurley would hit a second field goal to end the half putting the Lions up 19-14 soon after what felt like the Lions only miscue.
The second came with a breakout run from senior running back Terence Humphrey on a 62-yard TD run that put the seal on the game for the Lions late in the third quarter making the score 26-17. The 62-yard run would put Humphrey over the 100-yard mark giving him 102 total for the game.
The Lions put up 402 total yards of offense compared to Western Illinois 312. They also commit zero turnovers and force their opponent to two coming from an interception by senior defensive back A.J. Bracey and a fumble recovery by Charlie Ryan after a forced fumble by Jakob Cummings.
The win marked the first FCS win for UNA since 1982 and marks their first time playing an FCS opponent since 1992. The win also extends the Lions winning streak to five games after they won the last four games of last season’s play.
They will travel this weekend and play the FCS ranked No.23 Montana Grizzlies for the first time in school history. Montana finished with a winning record last year of 6-5 and will be led by head coach Bobby Hauck.
The Grizzlies won their first game of the season against South Dakota State 31-17. The team has a .890 win percentage at home and often sells out their stadium which can hold 25,000 people.
We are going to be going into one of the best atmospheres in all of college football and we have to go in prepared for the noise and the fans,” UNA head coach Chris Willis said. “We can’t become spectators at what’s going on around us. We have to be focused and prepared. We can’t let the crowd affect us.”
The game starts on Saturday at 8 p.m. at Washington-Grizzly stadium.