Lions bring seasoned team into championship game

Senior defensive end Tyler Smith chases down a ball carrier against North Carolina-Pembroke Nov. 26 during an NCAA Division II second round playoff game. Smith is one of many upperclassmen on the North Alabama roster heading into the national championship game.

North Alabama head coach Bobby Wallace and a panel of players answered questions at a press conference Dec. 13 regarding the upcoming national championship game in Kansas City, Kansas.

They fielded a wide range of questions about their upcoming opponent, Northwest Missouri State, the camaraderie surrounding the game and the game against shepherd last week, which allowed UNA to reach the finale.

But one of the questions about the fourth and fifth year players and their development sparked an emotional, but stern response from the 28-year veteran coach, who had previously won three national championships in 1993-95 and will appear in the championship for the first time in 21 years.

“My dream of how I would have wanted this program to be when I first came here…and we haven’t finished yet…is that we’re holding the trophy Saturday,” Wallace said. “But even if we don’t, to win four straight conference championships, playing in the national championship game, graduating all the guys, GPA’s being so high, — I’m so proud of them.”

Wallace said 49 of his 60 travel squad members are juniors and seniors, many of whom redshirted as freshmen.

The final challenge standing in front of the team is a Northwest Missouri State squad who is the defending national champions and own five national championships in 10 appearances. The Bearcats (14-0) are a 22.5-point favorite, according to

While the Lions (11-1) appear to be heavy underdogs in Vegas’ eyes, the team looks to block out all distractions and prove why it deserves to be in the championship.

“I can be easy to get distracted with all the events they have planned for us (in Kansas City),” said senior safety James Rivers. “It’s an unbelievable experience. We have a veteran group, so I think we will be fine.”

Both teams come into Saturday’s game with the nation’s top-ranked defenses, as UNA held its three playoff opponents to 10 points per game, while scoring 34 offensively. Last week’s 23-13 semifinal road win over Shepherd displayed a UNA defense that held the Rams to 245 total yards and a season-low 112 passing yards.

The week prior, UNA kept North Greenville off the scoreboard to win Super Region 2 with a 38-0 victory. Junior safety Dorsey Norris said the team is sticking with its “unfinished business” mantra all the way to KC.

“I think for us, our hard work is starting to show, but we’re nowhere near satisfied,” he said. “(Winning) 38-0 is a great score for us, but, we’re not playing on Dec. 17, and we don’t have that national championship banner in our gym yet.”

Now, the Lions are in the championship game, but the mission remains the same.

“(Our players) know what’s at stake, and that’s what I like about this team,” Wallace said. “I haven’t talked much to them about things. If ESPN wants to come in the locker room for a pep talk, they’d be disappointed. I trust them that they know what we’re playing for.”

NWMSU will look to win a record-setting sixth national championship, while UNA hopes to win its fourth in a clash of the titans.

Kickoff from Children’s Mercy Park is set for 3 p.m. The game will be televised on ESPN 2 and broadcasted on 97.1 WBCF FM in Florence.