It’s about respect for UWA against Delta State

Published 1:08 pm Friday, October 26, 2012

Sitting on top of the Gulf South Conference standings with an opportunity to share a portion of the league title with a victory isn’t nearly enough for this West Alabama football team as it heads to Delta State for Saturday’s matchup with the Statesmen.

According to head coach Will Hall, Saturday’s game in Cleveland, Miss., is about respect. It’s about making a statement.

“This game, more than anything, is about trying to solidify our program as one of the premier programs in our conference,” Hall said. “This is about playing an opponent that has been the two-time defending conference champion who beat us by one score the last two years and stole our heart doing it.

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“This is about taking the next step and becoming the team on the mountaintop of what we believe is the best league in the country,” Hall said. “We believe there is a lot of respect to be earned for us out there.”

The Tigers are 6-2 overall and 3-0 in the GSC. The Statesmen are 3-4 and 1-2. Still, those who do such things have picked Delta State to defeat the Tigers. The assumption of said prognostication has not been lost on Hall.

“Everybody thought we were a good football team,” UWA’s second-year head coach said. “We were top 10 in the country and we go to Valdosta State and win by double digits, then one player gets hurt and nobody thinks we are any good anymore.”

The player Hall is referring to is running back and Harlon Hill Trophy candidate Matt Willis, who had already rushed for 552 yards in four and half games before a knee injury against West Georgia ended his season. The week following Willis’ injury, UWA lost an intersectional matchup to Midwestern (Texas) State, and despite winning its next two games by a combined score of 122-13, has not climbed higher than 15th in the national rankings or third on the NCAA regional list.

“That has been a tough pill to swallow for our coaching staff and our players” Hall said. “We don’t feel like anybody thinks we are any good, so we want to prove to everybody that we are a good football program, not a bunch of guys running around that had a great running back at one time.”

Now mix in the fact that 23 Tigers, nine of them starters, are from the state of Mississippi, and that Delta State hasn’t lost to UWA at home in 10 years, and you can see why the chip on UWA’s shoulder has grown into a boulder.

To add insult to injury, the Statesmen have won the last two meetings by a combined six points, 41-37 in 2010 and, 36-34, last year. Delta State built a 30-0 advantage in last season’s game before holding off a furious Tiger rally for the victory.

“It’s a rivalry game,” Hall said. “A lot of our players and theirs played against each other in high school and junior college, so that plays into it too.

“We have a good group of seniors who have provided solid leadership all year and they know what this means,” Hall said. “They know that if we had taken care of business the last two years we could have likely been the team already on top of the mountain.”

Kickoff is set for 4 p.m. at McCool Stadium on the Delta State campus.