Nov. 20, 2010

Courtesy of North Alabama

VALDOSTA, Ga. - After being shutout by Valdosta State just over a month ago, the University of North Alabama football team earned its revenge Saturday, pounding the Blazers 43-20 in a first round NCAA Division II Playoff Game at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium.

North Alabama rolled to a 33-7 halftime lead, aided by several VSU turnovers. The Blazers then mounted a comeback in the third quarter to close the gap to 33-20.

The win was finally sealed for UNA midway through the fourth quarter when Bryan Thomas picked off a Valdosta State pass and the Lions found the end zone three plays later on a 29-yard Chris Coffey run to make it 43-20.

The Lions' 43 points is in sharp contrast to the first time the two teams met this season. North Alabama was shutout by the Blazers 5-0 back on Oct. 14 in Florence in a game where UNA was held to a school-record low 101 total yards.

"I'm so proud of the effort that our players gave," said UNA Head Coach Terry Bowden. "We played a very physical team and the challenge was to be more physical than them today. We did that and we were able to force a lot of turnovers, and score points off those turnovers."

UNA, now 9-3 overall, forced seven turnovers in the game, recovering four fumbles and picking off three passes.

With the win, UNA advances to face Delta State in a second round matchup in Cleveland, Miss., next Saturday. The Lions beat the Statesmen 31-7 during the regular season. Valdosta State finished its season at 8-3.

Against Valdosta State, the Lions gained 309 yards of total offense, with 146 rushing and 163 passing. Chris Coffey led the ground game with 78 yards rushing and three touchdowns, while Antwan Ivey rushed for 55 yards and scored twice.

North Alabama scored 26 points in the first quarter, aided by four Valdosta State turnovers.

The Lions were stopped on their initial offensive possession, but Valdosta State fumbled the ball back to UNA on its first possession. Courtney Harris recovered for UNA at the VSU 34 but the Lions' offense was stopped again. On fourth down, UNA quarterback Lee Chapple did a quick kick and VSU fumbled it back to the Lions at the 11 as Jusmon Rivers recovered.

On the first play after the fumble Antwan Ivey raced through the right side for 11 yards and the touchdown. Josh Montgomery's extra point attempt was blocked but UNA led 6-0 at the 11:08 mark of the first quarter.

Valdosta State responded quickly as a 52-yard run by Ronnye Nelson put the Blazers immediately in scoring position. Austen Roberts passed four yards to Cameo Holloway for the touchdown and Daniel Andersen's PAT gave VSU the lead at 7-6 with 9:07 left in the first quarter.

UNA's offense came right back with a 73-yard, four-play scoring drive. Chapple passed 47 yards to Jusmon Rivers to put UNA in scoring position. Ivey scored his second touchdown of the day two plays later on a 17-yard run. Montgomery's kick was again blocked, but UNA led 12-7 with 6:47 left in the opening period.

Valdosta State fumbled the ball back to UNA on its next play and Tommie Westbrook recovered for UNA at the Blazers' 28. It took UNA just six plays to score. A key third down conversion pass from Chapple to Jyrone Hickman set the Lions up at the one and Chris Coffey plowed in from there for the TD. Montgomery made the PAT and UNA led 19-7 with 3:35 left in the first quarter.

An interception by John Ware set up the next UNA score as he returned his pick to the Blazers 46. North Alabama put together a six-play, 46-yard drive. Coffey carried the ball 24 yards, breaking several tackles, for the touchdown. Montgomery's kick extended UNA's lead to 26-7 on the final play of the opening period.

A miscue in VSU's kicking game gave UNA more points as a blocked punt was picked up by Rivers at the 12 and he carried it into the end zone. Montgomery's PAT made it 33-7 with 11:08 remaining in the second quarter.

A fumble by UNA on a punt return allowed Valdosta to score before the half. Andersen came on to boot a 28-yard field goal to make it 33-10 with 4:29 left in the half.

UNA rushed for 92 yards and passed for 90 in the first half. VSU had just 55 total yards on 28 plays and turned the ball over four times.

In the third quarter, VSU cut UNA's lead to 20 as Andersen drilled a 47-yard field goal at the 6:45 mark to make it 33-13.

The Blazers then closed to within two scores when Gerald Ford pulled in a tipped ball for a three-yard TD reception. Andersen's PAT closed the gap to 33-20 on the final play of the third quarter.

A 22-yard Montgomery field goal with 8:06 left in the game made it 36-20 and then Coffey's third TD run stretched it to 43-20.

UNA's defense has come up with 14 turnovers over the last two weeks.

North Alabama pulled off a playoff upset of the Blazers in Valdosta in 2005, downing the Blazers 40-13 on the road after losing a regular season battle to VSU. On UNA's last trip to Valdosta the Lions also recorded a big win, ripping the Blazers 62-27 during the 2009 regular season.

UNA is now 28-12 all-time in NCAA playoff games.