Lions prepare for important regional opponent

Senior defensive end Tyler Smith scoops up a fumble during UNA’s 45-0 win against Shorter on homecoming Oct. 15. The Lions hope for a strong defensive performance against Super Region 2 foe North Greenville Oct. 22 at Braly Stadium.

The UNA football team faces an unfamiliar, but important foe Oct. 22 when the North Greenville Crusaders visit Braly Stadium.

North Greenville (4-3) is a Division II independent school and is a member of Super Region 2, the same region UNA is in. This gives Saturday’s game heavy playoff implications.

A win could put the Lions (4-1, 4-0 Gulf South Conference) near the top of the first NCAA Regional Rankings, which will release next week. The Crusaders more than likely need a win Saturday in order to stay alive for postseason play.

“North Greenville is a good team,” said UNA assistant head coach and defensive coordinator Chris Willis. “We haven’t played them since back in the day, but we are getting familiar with them through film study.”

Willis said the North Greenville game is on the Lions’ radar because the Crusaders are slated to join the GSC as a football-only affiliate in 2018.

UNA enters the game after a 45-0 victory over Shorter Oct. 15 in their homecoming game. North Greenville comes in with momentum as well after defeating Tusculum College on the road, 31-7.

Despite being non-conference foes, the Lions and Crusaders share a mutual opponent in West Alabama. UNA won their tilt with The Tigers, 45-7, while North Greenville edged West Alabama in its season opener, 24-23.

North Greenville has three running backs entering the game that have rushed for over 300 yards this season. Freshman Tracy Scott leads the team with 453 yards and 10 touchdowns, while senior Ashton Heard follows him 388 yards and two touchdowns. Fellow senior Simeon Byrd adds 320 yards and three touchdowns on the year.

“They do a good job running the ball,” Willis said. “They have three really good running backs, and we have to be able to stop the run.”

Lions’ junior defensive lineman Sheldon Lewis said he shared a similar focus on stopping the Crusaders run game.

“They’re really stout in the run game,” Lewis said. “They have some really good running backs, but I have no doubt that we will shut down their run game.”

The Crusaders have turned the ball over five times in the last seven games, and Willis said that will be a focal point for the defense.

“The quarterback has only thrown two picks this year and that’s pretty impressive this late in the season,” Willis said. “We take (the lack of turnovers) as a challenge defensively and we want to try and force some this week.”

Defensively, North Greenville seems to be big and athletic, said senior fullback Hayden Henderson. But the Lions’ offense treated this week’s game like any other game in practice, he said.

“We haven’t done anything different,” Henderson said. “The coaches always do a good job of preparing us, and that makes Saturdays come easy to us.”

Henderson said facing an unfamiliar opponent like North Greenville means that film study is important.

“It’s huge,” Henderson said. “It may not be a conference opponent, but it is a region opponent. The more we study, the more we know what to expect from them and increases our chances of winning. That gives us an edge when it comes to playoff seeding.”

Kickoff will take place at 6 p.m. from Braly Stadium. Follow us on Twitter @FlorAlaSports for live scoring updates and coverage from the game.