Football preview: West Florida

Senior linebacker Barron Miller (44) leads the team out onto the field for UNA’s home opener vs. Valdosta State Sept. 17. Miller, along with a number of other seniors, will take the field at Braly Stadium for the final regular season home game against West Florida Nov. 5 for senior day.

by Sports Editor Andrew Fulmer

The West Florida Argonauts are fielding their first ever football team this season, but do not tell them that.

The Argonauts enter Saturday’s game against No. 7 North Alabama (6-1, 5-0 Gulf South Conference) sporting a 5-4 overall record and a 3-3 record in GSC play, including a victory over then No. 16 Florida Tech.

“West Florida has done a great job for a first year program,” said UNA head coach Bobby Wallace. “They had to start from scratch, so they’ve had to start a lot of freshmen and transfers. They do a lot of things that help them be successful. For instance, the quarterback is throwing the ball as soon as it’s snapped to him.”

Former Valdosta State quarterback Kaleb Nobles leads the West Florida aerial assault with a conference-leading 2,922 yards and 28 touchdowns passing. Nobles’ passing feats have earned him consideration for the 2016 Harlon Hill Trophy.

The Argonauts also lead the conference in total passing offense with 3,264-yards and 32 touchdowns with their quick passing offense.

Wallace said West Florida relies on a high-tempo passing game because the Argonauts have an inexperienced offensive line, therefore, giving the Lions defense an idea of what to expect come game time.

The secondary must stay alert throughout the game, said senior defensive back Philbert Martial.

“They’ve got a pretty good offense and quarterback,” Martial said. “They’ve got good wide receivers on the outside and inside. They average 360 yards a game, so that’s impressive. They also have a good running back, but we think they are going to come out and pass the ball.”

The challenge for UNA’s offense is to counter a West Florida defense that is just as aggressive as its offense, Wallace said.

“They blitz about every down to try and confuse (the offense),” Wallace said. “They do a good job of calling plays that gives their kids a chance.”

West Florida’s aggressive defense means the Lions’ offensive line has to be prepared to stop their blitz packages, said senior offensive lineman Stephen Evans.

“We are expecting a 3-2 base defense with linebackers blitzing behind the defensive ends,” Evans said. “It’s going to be a very physical game. Their defensive ends are always tilted in towards the offensive tackles, and they like to blitz almost every play. I think our team is ready to pick it up and protect the best we can.”

The West Florida game marks the final regular season home game for UNA, as well as senior day.

But Wallace said he emphasizes to the team there will be more home games if the Lions finish out their final two opponents.

“The seniors will be recognized during the game, but I hope that deep down inside they’ll realize we can be back in Braly Stadium this year,” Wallace said. “If we take care of our business, we will be.”

The Lions kickoff at 1:30 p.m. inside Braly Stadium Nov. 5.

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