Lions win fourth straight conference title in blowout

Senior defensive back Philbert Martial returns a punt in the North Alabama game against West Florida Nov. 5 in Florence. UNA clinched a fourth-straight Gulf South Conference championship in the win, which is the most consecutive conference football championships in the GSC’s 46-year history.

by Sports Editor Andrew Fulmer

North Alabama became the first-ever team in the Gulf South Conference to win four-straight conference championships after a dominant 51-3 win over West Florida Saturday in Braly Stadium.

The No. 7 Lions (7-1, 6-0 GSC) trounced the Argonauts (5-5, 3-4) in nearly every statistical category in the first meeting between the two programs. The Lions finished with 528 yards and a school-record 34 points in the first quarter.

“I thought that was the best game we played in a long time,” said UNA head coach Bobby Wallace. “When we were playing our game plan early, it was clicking in all phases. It seemed like we couldn’t call a play that didn’t work.”

The UNA offense came out firing on all cylinders, as the Lions scored within the first 15 seconds of the game. Senior quarterback Jacob Tucker found junior wide receiver Dre Hall for a 63-yard touchdown pass on the first play from scrimmage. Senior kicker Kevin Henke missed the extra point attempt, keeping the score at 6-0.

The Lions scored rushing touchdowns on their next two drives to take a 20-0 lead.

Sophomore running back Damon Cox ran in the end zone for a one-yard touchdown to cap off a seven play, 51-yard drive. Tucker added an 8-yard touchdown run on the following drive to extend the lead.

West Florida scored its first points of the game with a 20-yard field goal from Argonauts kicker Austin Peffers. On the ensuing kickoff, sophomore receiver Jaylon Jackson returned the West Florida kickoff for an 89-yard touchdown to make it 27-3.

Jackson’s kickoff return was the first return for a touchdown for UNA at Braly Stadium since 2005 versus Delta State.

Tucker added another touchdown run to put the Lions on top of the Argonauts 34-3 near the end of the first quarter.

UNA began resting starters in the second quarter after amassing a safe lead. Reserve quarterback Blake Hawkins came in for Tucker.

The freshman Florence native picked up where Tucker left off. Hawkins threw a 29-yard touchdown pass to senior tight end Ryan Mediano, bringing the Lions lead to 41-3.

Junior wide receiver Ray Beasley added a 41-yard touchdown run with 3:29 remaining in the half to give UNA a 48-3 advantage at halftime.

The only scoring play for either team in the second half was a Henke 27-yard field goal to solidify a 51-3 victory for the Lions.

“It’s a great feeling to go out your last regular season game at Braly Stadium like that,” said senior fullback Hayden Henderson. “It’s great to set the tone for not only us, but the young guys as well.”

The Lions play their final regular season game at Mississippi College Nov. 12.