Sitting at home the last couple of Saturdays and watching college football on television was like waving a steak in front of a hungry person and not being able to eat it. That, said North Alabama senior quarterback Jacob Tucker, was how he felt. North Alabama had a bye week in the second weekend of college football. 

The Lions opened the season on Thursday, Sept. 1 against Jacksonville State, currently ranked No. 6 in FCS, and now, the Lions are finally get back on the field in their home-opener at Braly Stadium at 7 p.m. (ET) Saturday against Gulf South Conference rival Valdosta State.

“It was definitely tough,” Tucker said. “Whenever you see someone on TV doing what you are supposed to be doing on that weekend, it just adds that eagerness for the next time you strap it up. We have a hungry team this year. That is not a secret. We are fired up and ready to get out there.”

The atmosphere figures to be electric. A crowd of well over 10,000 fans are expected for a contest that almost yearly figures into who wins the GSC and reaches the playoffs. In addition, this game will be televised on the American Sports Network (ASN).

Despite dropping its season-opener 31-12 to Jacksonville State, North Alabama is ranked No. 20 in the AFCA Coaches Top 25 and Valdosta State is ranked No. 22.

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Tucker, who has seen action at quarterback in three previous seasons before becoming the starter this year, understands the Lions must control their emotions against Valdosta State.

“Valdosta is a really good team,” he said. “They are the type of team that will take advantage of you if you do come in with emotions too high. We have to know how to hone that energy and hold it back until it is time to play it out.”

Interestingly, the visiting team has won seven of the last eight matchups between the two schools. The one victory by the home team during that time was by North Alabama, which beat Valdosta State in Florence 31-29 on a 54-yard field goal on the final play in a 2014 regular-season game.

North Alabama quarterback Jacob Tucker said he is eager to get into the season.
North Alabama Athletics
North Alabama quarterback Jacob Tucker said he is eager to get into the season.
Valdosta State got the perfect revenge later in 2014, squeaking out a 33-31 victory in a Division II playoff game. Tucker isn’t sure why the visiting team has had so much success in recent years.

“It is an 8 to 9-hour bus drive to and from Valdosta so you assume that factors in,” Tucker said. “I think it is something about being able to beat that big-time rival on their home turf that really adds to the intensity to the rivalry. It is always sweet to beat Valdosta State, but it is even sweeter to beat them on their home turf. I have a feeling they feel the same way about us.”

One thing is certain, Saturday’s game will give North Alabama coach Bobby Wallace a better idea of the type of team he has.

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Facing a high-quality FCS team was a challenge for the Lions.

“I think it was a good experience for our team,” Wallace said. “They have seen speed, size and strength and execution at a pretty high level. You can’t see that in practice. I think it prepared them. The negative side is I don’t have a clue where we stand in Division II and how good we are because we played such a good team. But I like the way our kids competed. I think it will help them.”

Tucker said the experience was definitely helpful for the players, being able to play in front of 22,000 fans on the road.

“We are not going to face a crowd that was as loud as Jacksonville State was,” Tucker said. “That will help us down the road because we have already been in that situation. Next, the talent they had on their team was good to go against. You never like to lose. There are moral victories. We are still 0-1 in the record book. Having said that, going against a team like that and having to play up to our potential to put up a fight against them really brought out what we have to do the rest of the season. It brought out the dog in us that we have to fight, scratch and claw for everything we earn. To get that mindset early is going to be huge for us.”

Saturday night’s game against Valdosta State ures to be one in which both teams will need to dig deep to pull out a win.

“This game is huge,” Wallace said. “This is a heck of an open conference game for both of us. It has been a tightly contested game that really the visiting team has had the advantage. I hope we can break that streak.”

2016 Statistics 

  Valdosta State     North Alabama   
Record  1-0 0-1
Points Scored 16 12
Points Allowed 7 31
Rushing Offense 67 52
Rushing Defense 220 272
Passing Offense 203 170
Passing Defense 157 230

West Texas A&M looking forward to playing new football program

Given what West Texas A&M will face in the third week of the football season, the Buffs are the ultimate road warriors in NCAA Division II so far this season.

The hoopla surrounding the Buffs’ third-straight road game will be at a high level when they take on University of Texas of the Permian Basin at Ratliff Stadium in Odessa, Texas.

It is the first season of football for Permian Basin. The game, scheduled for an 8 p.m. (ET) kickoff on Saturday will be televised on ESPN3 and WatchESPN

“It is going to be cool,” said West Texas A&M senior defensive back Davontae Merriweather. “We are happy we are going to be on ESPN, playing a new team. They are going to come out and play, like we are going to come out and play. It will be a good matchup.”

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Based on their first two games, the Buffs should be unfazed by all the pomp and circumstance that surrounds this game. They opened the season at Azusa Pacific, a team that is currently ranked No. 16. Starting eight new players on offense and only using three that saw action in previous years, West Texas A&M lost 28-10 to Azusa Pacific.

“Azusa is a good football team and the way they played against Humboldt, they showed that,” West Texas A&M coach Mike Nesbitt said.

In week two, West Texas A&M played at Colorado State-Pueblo, which was ranked 24th in the country and is the 2014 national champions. West Texas A&M won 26-10.

“The most important thing is they relaxed a little bit and went back to enjoying playing,” Nesbitt said. “Going into week two, they relaxed and gained some confidence in themselves. We played a lot better in all three phases. There were some things to build on. We went out and played hard. It has been a lot of fun playing two quality teams in good environments. Both schools, Azusa Pacific and Colorado Pueblo, have great environments and good crowds.”

West Texas A&M defensive back Davontae Merriweather looks to make an impact this season.
West Texas A&M Athletics
West Texas A&M defensive back Davontae Merriweather looks to make an impact this season.
Merriweather excelled in the second game of the season. His eight tackles, one interception and one blocked kick helped him earn Lone Star Conference defensive player of the week.

“It was good for us, for our confidence,” Merriweather said. “We beat them last year and that gave us confidence. It was good to win at their field. They were a good opponent. We went out there and played well.”

Saturday’s game presents a new challenge for the Buffs. They are playing a team they have very little film on.

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“You have to go back and do research on all their coordinators, offense, defense, special teams and look guys up to have an idea of where they are,” Nesbitt said. “You are going to see a bunch of different looks, offensively, defensively. What they have shown the first two weeks of the season does not guarantee you are going to get in the third week of the season with a new staff.

“The preparation is fun. The environment will be exciting, too.”

West Texas A&M will finally play at home on Sept. 24 against Tarleton State. But the Buffs will be on the road most of the season. Seven of their games are away from home.

“We have to get out there and get used to it,” Nesbitt said. “It is good for our guys. I think our team does a good job traveling. From that standpoint, our kids enjoy it.

 “As college football players, it is what you want. You want to travel to a place where the game is important and it is a good time. That is really enjoyable.”

2016 Statistics 

  West Texas A&M  Permian Basin
Record  1-1 2-0
Points Scored 18 38
Points Allowed 19 20
Rushing Offense 71 127.5
Rushing Defense 201.5 187
Passing Offense 214.5 265.5
Passing Defense 80 252