Record-setting kick lifts Lions to victory

Fans moved to the edge of their seats Saturday night awaiting a 54-yard field goal attempt from senior placekicker Taylor Pontius. Four seconds remained on the time clock.

Braly Municipal Stadium erupted as the football sailed between the goal posts to carry the No. 5 ranked Lions to a 31-29 victory over Gulf South Conference rival Valdosta State University.

After a good snap and hold by junior wide receiver Lee Mayhall, Pontius, who missed an extra point and a field goal on his previous attempts, had the opportunity to redeem himself by kicking the longest field goal in UNA history.

“I’m just so pumped right now,” Pontius said. “This is the greatest feeling I’ve ever known.”

Pontius earned the GSC special teams player of the week title, and junior running back Lamonte Thompson was named GSC player of the week.

With 9:48 remaining on the clock and the game tied at 22, the Lions went on a 10-play, 71-yard drive capped by a five-yard Thompson touchdown run.

Pontius’ kick hit the upright on the extra point attempt.

Valdosta’s Austin Scott immediately answered with a 28-yard touchdown run, putting the Blazers ahead 29-28 with 2:02 remaining.

After regaining possession, the Lions moved the ball 60 yards in seven plays to set up Pontius’ record-breaking field goal.

“It’s inexcusable to miss an extra point,” Pontius said. “But I told the guys I would make up for it, and I did.”

The Blazers racked up more offensive yards than UNA with 434-397.

“We didn’t play our best game tonight,” said head coach Bobby Wallace.  “But I’m always glad to get a win over Valdosta State.”

Thompson led the offensive attack for the Lions, carrying the ball 25 times for 140 yards.

“He’s a dynamic player for us,” said offensive coordinator Cody Gross.  “He was running extremely well, so we just put the ball in his hands.”

The Lions defense allowed more yards than they have all season.

“I don’t know if it was as much scheme as it was we just didn’t tackle well tonight,”  said defensive coordinator Chris Willis.

Linebacker Xavier Triplet led the Lions defense with 10 tackles.

This marks the first time since 2008 the home team has been victorious in a meeting between the two teams.

“We’re glad to end that streak tonight,” Wallace said.  “But I’m really more excited that we were able to get the win for this football team.”

Junior running back Cedric O’Neal, led the Valdosta defense with 115 yards on 19 carries.

This marks the 10th time O’Neal has surpassed the 100-yard mark on the ground for the Blazers.  

“He runs the ball hard and he runs the ball with purpose.”  Willis said.  “But once again, we need to tackle better.”

The win brings the Lions to 3-0 overall on the season and 2-0 in conference play.

Valdosta falls to 2-2 overall and 0-2 in the conference.

“At season’s end, they’ll be right there in the mix with everybody else.”  Wallace said.  “They’re a good football team, and I expect them to be as good as anybody in the conference we’ll play all year.”

The Lions now direct their attention toward Western Oregon University, whom they face for Homecoming this weekend.

Western Oregon is 2-2 overall and will play its first-ever game against the Lions.

“We’ll have to look at the film to familiarize ourselves with what they do,” Wallace said.  “But we’ll break it down and be ready to go next week.”

Kickoff is 6 p.m. Oct. 4 at Braly Municipal Stadium.