Football preview: North Greenville

Junior wide receiver Ray Beasley hauls in a pass in North Alabama’s previous meeting with North Greenville Oct. 22 at Braly Stadium. The Lions defeated the Crusaders 52-21 in that game.

Next up for the North Alabama football team’s quest for the 2016 national title features a rematch against the North Greenville Crusaders at Braly Stadium Dec. 3 in the third round of the playoffs.

The Lions (9-1, 7-0 Gulf South Conference) handled the Crusaders (9-4, 0-0 Division-II Independent) with ease in their Oct. 22 regular season matchup, defeating them 52-21.

But that was a different game, and North Greenville has had over a month to improve since then.

UNA has also had to time to improve since then.

“I always talk about intangibles,” said UNA head coach Bobby Wallace. “But, it really takes a combination of three things: talent, good coaching and those intangibles.”

Philosophically, North Greenville continues to utilize a strong rushing attack behind a stable of talented running backs. True freshman Tracy Scott leads the team in virtually every rushing statistic with 1,067-yards and 15 touchdowns, which is tied for 19th most in the nation. Senior Ashton Heard provides the Crusaders with a change-of-pace back who is talented in his own right. Heard has 714-yards and four touchdowns this season. Both players have appeared in all 13 games this season.

The passing game starts with redshirt sophomore quarterback Will Hunter who has thrown only four interceptions all season. Hunter has 2,940-yards passing and 23 touchdowns through the air. North Greenville has a trio of receivers with over 500-yards receiving this season in juniors Javon Smith and Mason Sanders and sophomore Demjiay Rooks.

The defense will be tasked with slowing down the Crusader passing game without first team All-GSC and four-year starter senior cornerback Levi Fell, who is out for the season with a knee injury.

Junior safety Dorsey Norris said facing an efficient offense like North Greenville takes extra preparation, especially with the loss of Fell.

“We’ve been preparing more mentally,” Norris said. “We’ve already begun watching film on them. The difference between the team we are playing Saturday versus the one we played (in Oct.) is they’ve found their rhythm. They’re not really doing anything different, they’ve just found what works and have improved on that. We’ve got to be ready, as a defense, for their game plan.”

The Crusaders defense has allowed 5,022-yards to opposing offenses this season, averaging about 386 yards per game. The Crusader rushing defense could be exploited as they are averaging 172.2 yards allowed, including 269 yards in the Oct. 22 meeting.

“(From the films we have watched) I have seen a little bit different shifts in their defense,” said senior offensive lineman Stephen Evans. “They’re obviously going to change up their looks, but we know their players and know what they are capable of.”

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