Willis, defense lead Tigers to 44-0 season opening win
Harlon Hill Trophy candidate Matt Willis scored three touchdowns and accounted for 236 total yards while the University of West Alabama defense limited Clark Atlanta to 78 total yards in a 44-0 victory Saturday at Panther Stadium.
UWA is 1-0 heading into next Saturday’s game at Samford (1-0). Clark Atlanta is 0-1 and plays at Lane College next week.
“We were consistent on defense throughout and we only had two special teams miscues,” head coach Will Hall said. “Defensively we were just flying around. We held them to 3-of-13 on third down and 78 total yards while forcing four turnovers. That’s a phenomenal defensive effort.”
The West Alabama defense smothered the Panthers, recording 10 tackles for loss and seven sacks. The Tigers also recovered three fumbles and had an interception.
Twenty-seven Tigers made at least one tackle, led by Ryan Jones with seven. Jones also had a sack and two tackles for loss. Tirelle Cullen recorded a pair of sacks and as many tackles for loss. Preseason All-America linebacker Deon Lacey intercepted a pass, while Willie Packer, Dereck Jordan and Wade Wells recovered fumbles.
The Tigers sputtered on offense early, but still managed to take a 16-0 lead into the half on the strength of a 10-yard TD run by Willis and Ryne Smith field goals of 36, 47 and 33 yards.
“Offensively it was a herky-jerky, not in sync night, but we made some big plays,” Hall said. “We had 455 yards and 44 points and aren’t happy. That’s shows how far we have come as a program.”
Willis ran for 163 yards and two scores while hauling in two passes for 73 yards and a TD. Quarterback Kyle Caldwell completed 12-of-19 for 215 yards and a pair of TDs. Seth Roberts led Tiger receivers with three catches for 35 yards. Malik Lofton caught two passes for 60 yards, including a 36-yard score from Caldwell.
“That was a great effort by Matt Willis,” Hall said. “He was the best player on the field like he always is, but I was also pleased with Danny Hobbs and our young backs.”
One of those young backs was freshman Dakota Daniel from Hoover, who scored the Tigers’ final touchdown on a 14-yard run with 1:58 to play. Hobbs had 42 yards on four carries.
“We had a little trouble getting started, but I told our guys to just relax and we would be OK,” Willis said. “Once we got in the groove things worked better for us. It was a good way to get started.”
The Tigers ran for 244 yards and passed for 211 while being penalized 18 times for 150 yards. Clark Atlanta finished with 22 yards rushing and 56 passing.