UWA wins close one over West Georgia

Published 10:47 pm Saturday, September 29, 2012

West Alabama shredded the Gulf South Conference’s top rushing defense for 313 yards on the ground and the Tiger defense intercepted four passes on the way to a 24-20 win over West Georgia in a steady, misting rain Saturday at Tiger Stadium.

The win lifts 10th ranked West Alabama, who lost four fumbles, to 4-1 overall and 2-0 in the GSC. West Georgia, who had been allowing just 76.3 yards rushing per game, dipped to 2-2 overall and 0-1 in league play.

“To win a championship there are times you have to win ugly,” UWA head coach Will Hall said. “We won ugly tonight against a good football team.

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“We played phenomenal on defense and not as well in the other two facets of the game,” Hall said. “Again, it was a good win against a conference opponent and we will always be happy with that.”

Malcolm Butler led the UWA defense with three interceptions, three broken up passes and five tackles. The Tigers limited West Georgia to just 242 yards of total offense, just 95 through the air. Two Wolves quarterbacks managed to complete just 9-of-27 against the GSC’s top secondary.

“Coach (Robert) Henry had a good plan and made the right calls. We had to play our game, playing physical and doing what we do,” UWA linebacker Ben Brooks said. “It’s big to be 2-0 in this league. Everybody looks down on West Alabama in the GSC, no matter how successful we are. This was a statement game for us.”

Butler’s three picks tied the school record for interceptions in a game. The record is held by several Tigers, but most recently by current safety Otha Foster last week at Valdosta State.

“We just stuck together tonight,” Butler said. “Coach Hall always talks about holding on to the rope and sticking together. We did that tonight.”

West Georgia opened the scoring midway through the first quarter when safety Donovan Jackson scooped up a Gary Johnston fumble and ran 35 yards for a touchdown. Johnston, one of two UWA quarterbacks to see action, rebounded to run for 56 yards in the game.

“We knew they were going to come out swinging, but in sloppy weather like this we had to run the ball,” Johnston said. “The offensive line loves it, so the more yards we get on the ground the more it keeps them happy.

“I don’t think West Georgia had played a run team like us,” Johnston said. “We need to get healthy and focus on correcting mistakes, but a GSC win is a GSC win and we’ll take it.”

Senior running back Matt Willis broke the UWA career rushing record on a 27-yard carry late in the first quarter, setting up a 7-yard scoring run from Kyle Caldwell to even the score at 7-7. Willis now has 2,141 career yards and moved past UWA Athletic Hall of Fame member Johnny Shepherd (1980-82) as UWA’s top all-time runner.

A Javae Swindle fumble on a punt return set West Georgia up at UWA’s 7-yard line early in the second quarter, but the Tiger defense stiffened and forced the Wolves to settle for a 20-yard field by Davis Brackett and a 10-7 lead.

West Alabama answered on its next drive. A 27-yard run by Reggie Hall set up a 4-yard scoring run by Willis, giving him 22 career rushing TDs, tying him for the top spot on that list with Alfred Banks (1987-90). Willis finished with 86 yards rushing and one reception for 15 yards before a knee injury late in the first half ended his night.

Quan Jones scored on a 9-yard run with 7:01 left in the first half to put West Georgia back on top, 17-14. The score was set up by a 51-yard completion from Austin Trainor to Tavarus Lewis on a third-and-20 play.

After a pair of West Georgia pass interference penalties gave West Alabama an untimed down to end the first half, Ryne Smith connected on his 20th consecutive field goal, a 25-yarder, to send the Tigers and Wolves into the intermission tied at 17.

West Alabama regained the lead on a 6-yard touchdown run by Danny Hobbs at the 3:46 mark in the third period. Smith’s 61st consecutive PAT made it 24-17 at the end of three quarters.

A 31-yard field goal off the foot of Brackett with 10:44 to play cut UWA’s lead to the final margin.

West Georgia defensive end Tory Slater recovered the fourth lost Tiger fumble at UWA’s 46-yard line with 9:41 to play, but the UWA defense refused to break and forced a three-and-out.

The Wolves got the ball back with 3:24 to play, needing to go 80 yards for the win. After picking up a pair of first downs, Butler broke up Dallas Dickey’s fourth-down pass and the Tigers only had to kneel down three times for the victory.

Hall finished with 74 rushing yards and returned three kickoffs for 81 yards. Caldwell ran for 50 yards on nine trips and Hobbs had 47 on 13 carries. Caldwell completed 6-of-13 for 70 yards and was not intercepted.

Foster finished with five tackles and Ridge Turner had UWA’s fourth interception and broke up four passes.

Dickey led West Georgia ball carriers with 52 yards on five carries and completed 4-of-9 passes for 23 yards. Trainor was 5-of-18 and threw all four interceptions. Bobby Liggins led Wolves tacklers with seven and also recovered a fumble.