Lions championship hopes crushed in first round

There were no late game heroics this time around for the Lions as UNA fell to Valdosta State University 33-31 in the first round of the NCAA D-II playoffs Nov. 22.

The Blazers got their revenge by dominating in the trenches all afternoon. Valdosta State finished with a school record 395 yards rushing and piled up 629 total yards against the No. 1 ranked defense in the Gulf South Conference.

“Their running game was very difficult to contain,” said head coach Bobby Wallace. “They’re a very physical football team with their running game. I thought they found their personality when we went up 14-0 the last time we played them.”

After tailing 28-24 entering the fourth quarter, the Blazers kicker Anthony Pistelli connected on a 52-yard field goal 10 seconds into the period. The Lions responded on the next possession with a seven play 73-yard drive ending with a 27-yard field goal by senior Taylor Pontius to put UNA up 31-27 with 12:19 to play.

The Blazers used their rushing attack to march down the field on their next two drives and made two more field goals in the final quarter to go up 33-31 with 3:19 left.

Unfortunately for the Lions, there was no game-winning kick this time on the last drive. Junior quarterback Luke Wingo was intercepted by the Blazers with 3:06 left and ran out the clock to secure the victory.

“It was just a poor decision on my part,” Wingo said. “The linebacker got so much depth and I planned on the receiver cutting up under him. By the time I threw it I saw he wasn’t and I didn’t step into it well.”

Wingo had a career day by breaking the school record for total yards in a game with 523. He also passed for three touchdowns and ran for one.

The Lions had to rely on Wingo’s arm throughout the game, as they were unable to get anything going on the ground. UNA finished the game with only 12 yards rushing, the lowest output of the season.

“They have a bunch of great players on defense and that’s the honest truth,” Wallace said. “All three of their linebackers are all-conference and their safeties come down hard.”

UNA beat Valdosta State 31-29 off a game winning field goal by Taylor Pontius Sept. 27. The Lions ended the season with a 9-2 record and a share of the GSC championship.