UWA faces first step toward second goal
Despite an upset bid that came up just short at FCS member McNeese State, West Alabama opens the Gulf South Conference portion of its football schedule Thursday at Florida Tech with its goals still intact.
Repeating as GSC champions, a third consecutive trip to the NCAA Playoffs and a national title are still attainable goals, with the first step getting back in the win column against the Panthers in the first of four consecutive Thursday night games.
“Our second goal every year is to win the league. The first is to beat UNA,” head coach Will Hall said. “So this is the first step toward our second goal. We start our conference season with Florida Tech, and if we are going to get another ring, we have to win this first one.”
Kickoff is set for 7:06 p.m. central time and the CBS Sports Network will televise the game nationally. It is the second of four televised games for West Alabama this season.
West Alabama is 1-1 after losing, 44-42, at McNeese State. The Tigers lead the GSC in almost every offensive category, including scoring (42.0) , total offense (527.0), rushing offense (273.0), time of possession (33:03) and passing efficiency (196.7).
D2Football.com ranks UWA 14th and the AFCA Poll has UWA at No. 16. Florida Tech is unranked.
Florida Tech is also 1-1, having beaten Stetson and lost at Newberry. The Panthers are playing their inaugural college football season in a fertile football recruiting state.
“Florida Tech a 1-1 football team that ought to be 2-0. We know we have to go down there with our chinstraps buckled, execute and play well,” Hall said. “They beat Stetson and they should have beaten Newberry, which has been a Division II playoff caliber team. They are a confident bunch and will be fired up for their first conference game.”
Hall is hoping national television exposure will help refocus the Tigers following an emotional and energy-draining game at McNeese State.
“We are coming off a tremendous game where we really spilt everything. We have to find a way to get back up,” Hall said. “One way to do that is the fact the game is on national television, which is a huge honor for our program and our university.”
The Tigers are also counting on the leadership of key players returning to their home state to play in front of family and friends. UWA hasn’t played against a team from Florida since losing to Tampa in 1961.
Running back and return specialist Kedrick Rhodes, who leads the GSC in kickoff return yardage (24.3), is from Ocala. Receiver Seth Roberts, who has already caught three touchdown passes this season, is from Tallahassee. Defensive back Rashad Greene is from Daytona Beach, while kicker Mark Grant, who has made all 12 of his extra point attempts, is from Panama City.
The Tigers come into the game in fairly good health. Senior linebacker Fred Barnes and sophomore punter Jordan Ikner are out battling nagging injuries. Senior Ricky Willis will start at strong linebacker, while Grant will add punting duties to his place kicking chores for the second straight game.