Nov. 21, 2009

Courtesy North Alabama Athletics

FLORENCE – The University of North Alabama built a 27-point lead entering the fourth quarter and held on for a 41-28 win over Arkansas Tech in the second round of the NCAA Division II playoffs at Braly Stadium.

The Lions, now 11-1 overall, advance to the quarterfinal round of the playoffs for the fifth straight season. The Lions will host Carson-Newman on Saturday, November 28 in Florence at noon. The Eagles advanced to the quarterfinals with a 59-41 win over West Alabama. UNA defeated Carson-Newman 31-14 back on Sept. 5 at Braly Stadium.

The game looked to be a shoot-out as both teams scored on their opening possessions and the game was tied 14-14. North Alabama then shutdown ATU’s offense and built a 41-14 lead entering the final period. Arkansas Tech quarterback Nick Graziano was held to 168 yards passing through three periods but then picked up another 264 in the fourth quarter as the Wonder Boys rallied.

After Tech cut UNA’s lead to 13, the Lions defense responded and picked off Graziano twice to secure the win. The first was by Darron Dampier and the second was by Quinton Andrews in the end zone with just 2:33 remaining.

UNA finished with 480 yards of total offense, picking up 341 through the air and 139 on the ground.  North Alabama quarterback Harrison Beck was 25-of-37 through the air for 341 yards and three touchdowns. He also rushed for one score. UNA running back Tim Hickcs rushed for 69 yards and one TD and added 90 receiving yards on five catches. The Lions’ Preston Parker had eight catches for 121 yards and a score.

Tech had 519 total yards with 432 passing and 87 rushing. Graziano was 39-of-63 with two interceptions and three TDs. Frantz Simeon had 15 catches for 105 yards and Landon Turner had 13 for 149.

UNA took the opening kickoff and marched 89 yards in 12 plays for a touchdown. Beck was five-of-seven on the drive for 48 yards. Hicks covered the final 12 yards to the end zone for his sixth TD of the season. Kenny Spencer added the PAT and UNA led 7-0 with with 9:38 left in the first period.

Tech responded with a time consuming drive of its own as the Wonder Boys burned 5:42 off the clock on a 13-play, 67-yard drive. Graziano pushed his way in from one yard out for the TD and Travis Cockerham’s PAT tied the game at 7-7 with 3:56 to go in the first quarter.

T.J. Porter pulled in a 10-yard TD pass from Beck with 3:42 left in the quarter to put UNA back on top 14-7. Graziano led a 15-play, 74-yard drive in response and capped it with a 15-yard  TD pass to Turner. Cockerham’s PAT made it 14-14 with 13:28 left in the second quarter.

After an exchange of punts, UNA put together a 13-play, 65-yard drive to retake the lead. Beck scored on a one-yard dive and Spencer’s kick made it 21-14 with 3:35 left in the half.  Brandon Fanney forced an ATU fumble on the ensuing possession and Terence Stanton recovered at the UNA 37. The Lions got a 36-yard field goal from Spencer to extend their lead to 24-14 with 20 seconds left in the half.

UNA stopped Tech on the opening possession of the second half and then marched 55 yards in just three plays for a score. Beck hit Parker with a 21-yard TD pass in the right corner of the end zone and Spencer’s kick made it 31-14 with 12:29 left in the third.

A 32-yard TD pass from Beck to Mico McSwain made it 38-14 with 5:19 left in the quarter, and a 30-yard Spencer field goal at the 1:55 mark extended it to 41-14.

Tech got new life in the fourth quarter as Graziano hit Rolaundo Wright with a 16-yard TD pass to pull the Wonder Boys within 20 at 41-21 with 14:50 left to play.

Graziano then threw a short screen pass that Cody Burns turned into a 53-yard TD play. Cockerham’s PAT made it 41-28 with 7:09 left.

Dampier ended one Tech drive and returned his interception 55 yards. UNA couldn’t score on the opportunity.

Tech then had one final drive as the Wonder Boys moved to the UNA eight before Andrews got his sixth pick of the season.

The playoff win was the first at UNA for first-year head coach Terry Bowden as he became the fourth head coach in school history to lead the Lions to the post-season. Bowden has previously led Salem College and Samford to post-season playoffs, in addition to taking the Auburn Tigers to three bowls and one SEC Championship Game.

With the win, UNA is now 27-11 all-time in the Division II playoffs, which is the most wins by any current Division II school. UNA also improved to 8-4 all-time against Gulf South Conference schools and the Lions are now 10-4 in rematch games, where they have played the same opponent twice in one year.  The win was UNA’s 24th straight against schools from the state of Arkansas, dating back to 2005.