Lions fall in national championship game

Two North Alabama coaches console junior receiver Dre Hall in the final moments of the national championship game against Northwest Missouri State in Kansas City, Kansas. The Lions lost the game 29-3 to end the 2016 season 11-2.

The 2016 season came to a bitter end for the North Alabama football team as it fell to Northwest Missouri State 29-3 in the national championship game.

The Lions faced the task of stopping a Bearcat team on a 29-game win streak and playing in their second straight national title game. The elements did not help the matter as the teams battled through heavy snow on the 16-degree tundra at Kansas City, Kansas.

“I coached eight years at Temple and never saw a game like this before,” said Lions head coach Bobby Wallace. “I think the vision was the biggest issue to deal with for both teams.”

The lack of vision proved to be fatal for the Lion’s championship hopes, as NWMSU forced UNA to rely on its passing game. The Bearcats limited the Lions to 22 total rush yards.

“Their defensive line is great,” Wallace said. “It’s the best defensive line we’ve seen all year long. I wish I could think of something, but there was nothing more we could do except keep trying to throw the ball and get on the perimeter because we’d just be running into a wall if we tried to run straight ahead.”

On the other side, the Bearcats put up 226 rushing yards, and scored 22 unanswered points in the second half.

The Lions offense finished 201 total yards, and the only score of the game for UNA came courtesy of junior kicker Kevin Henke in the final seconds before halftime.

The defense stalled the Bearcat offense for much of the game, and limited them to 29 points while they entered the game averaging 46 points.

The starting quarterback for NWMSU was a mystery up until kickoff. Starter Kyle Zimmerman left the Bearcat’s previous game against Ferris State with a shoulder injury, and quarterback/receiver Randy Schmidt filled in.

Zimmerman got the start, but Schmidt played a fair share of snaps as a wildcat quarterback. Schmidt ended the game 133 all-purpose yards including 96-yards rushing, 25-yards receiving and 12-yards passing.

“We knew that when (Schmidt) came in that he was going to run the ball more, but we didn’t really expect (Zimmerman) to run the ball as much as he did,” said junior defensive lineman Sheldon Lewis. “Regardless, we practiced and prepared for it. It was just a matter of going out and stopping it.”

The loss snaps an 11 game winning streak for UNA, and casts a shadow on a season that saw a record fourth consecutive Gulf South Conference championship.

“It was a remarkable year, it really was,” Wallace said. “I’m very proud of them.”

Note: Managing Editor Mike Ezekiel assisted with information used in this article.