UNA defeats Shepherd to earn spot in national championship game

North Alabama defenders Sheldon Lewis (52) and E.J. Parnell celebrate a stop in the Lions’ second round showdown against North Carolina-Pembroke Nov. 26 in Florence. UNA went on the road to face Shepherd in the semifinals and defeated the Rams 23-13 to earn a spot in the Division II national championship game for the first time since 1995. 

by Sports Editor Andrew Fulmer

After a 21-year absence, the North Alabama football team will play for a Division II national championship title.

The Lions traveled to West Virginia to take on the Shepherd Rams in the semifinal round and came away with a 23-13 victory over the undefeated Super Region 1 champions.

“I’m very proud to have this opportunity,” said Lions head coach Bobby Wallace. “We’re really proud to be going to Kansas City. I’m thrilled for all of our players, coaches and fans.”

The Lions offense put up big numbers throughout the season, but it was the defense that put up numbers against the Rams by limiting their total offensive yards to 245.

After allowing a touchdown on the Rams’ first possession, the Lion defense kept the opposing offense out of the end zone up until the third quarter.

Rams All-American receiver Billy Brown entered the semifinal showdown with 1,563 yards receiving and 22 touchdowns in 2016. UNA’s defense limited him to two receptions for 17 yards and no touchdowns.

“Our game plan was ‘If we can contain (Brown), we can contain the rest of the offense,’” said junior safety Dorsey Norris. “He was about four catches away from 100 this season, and we didn’t wan to be the team to give that up.”

UNA’s offense battled through near freezing temperatures and turnovers to put up the necessary points to keep Shepherd out of the game.

The Lions led the Rams in nearly every offensive statistical category, including outrushing the Rams 209-133.

Harlon Hill Trophy candidate Jacob Tucker led the way with 113 net yards and a touchdown on the ground, and added another 178 yards and a touchdown passing.

Tucker credited UNA’s offensive line for not only today’s success, but also the success throughout the entire season.

“Our offensive line has fought all year,” he said. “We’ve got guys playing hurt pretty bad, but they’re fighters. That’s who you want in front of you. They fought hard all day, and I wouldn’t go to war with another five.”

UNA will travel to Kansas City, Kansas, to face defending champions Northwest Missouri State in the Division II national championship game Dec. 17.

Note: Managing Editor Mike Ezekiel assisted with this story.