GSC title on line for UWA, UNA
Think the annual game between West Alabama and in-state rival North Alabama means something?
“This week is like an addiction. When it is over, you wish you could go back and do it again,” UWA head coach Will Hall said. “You just can’t get enough of it. It’s intoxicating, it really is.”
A nine-game conference regular-season winning streak is on the line for West Alabama. UNA owns the longest current winning streak against any opponent in the GSC at four.
“This is what we practice for in the spring and the summer,” UWA linebacker Tevin Thomas said. “Everything we work for comes down to now.”
At least a share of the 2013 GSC title is there for the taking when the Tigers and Lions kick off at Braly Municipal Stadium in Florence, Ala., Saturday at 3 p.m. UWA is 6-2 overall and 4-0 in conference play. UNA is 5-2 and 3-1.
“It’s going to be a phenomenal atmosphere and we can’t wait to get up there and play,” Hall said. “It’s a huge game in a great venue and we are excited about it.”
At most, bragging rights for the next 365 days is also on the line, barring an encore performance between the two in the NCAA Playoffs.
“This is what we sign our scholarships for. I came here to play games like this,” Tiger center Skeeter Sellers said. “This is one of the best weeks of your life and you never forget it.”
Hall won a Harlon Hill Trophy as a UNA quarterback and still owns several Lion passing records he set during the 2002 or 2003 season. Between his current and previous stints at UNA, Bobby Wallace coached at West Alabama for five years.
Hall, along with UWA offensive coordinator Sam Gregg and assistant head coach Desmond Lindsey coached on Wallace’s UWA staff for three years, helping take the Tigers from 7-14 in Wallace’s first two years to 19-16 in his last three.
North Alabama leads the series 48-17-1, but West Alabama has won two of the last three meetings. Never has the game been played with conference title implications for both teams.
“It’s going to be a great Saturday afternoon for football,” Hall said. “It will be arguably the biggest game in the long history of this rivalry.”
Hall has won 70 percent of his games in his third year as head coach of the Tigers, while Wallace has won 68 percent of his in his 12th year over two stints in Florence.
The Tigers lead the GSC in several categories, including scoring, total offense, rushing offense and passing efficiency. The UNA defense records takeaways at an alarming rate, including six in a lopsided win over defending national champion Valdosta State last week.
“They have won the turnover battle the last few weeks by a considerable margin,” Hall said. “That has been the theme of their football program, so we have to protect the football and make some big plays.”
Big plays have been a stalwart of the West Alabama offense this season. The Tigers have recorded 20 plays of 30 yards or more, seven of 50 more and four of 75 yard or more. UWA has been an equal opportunity scoring team with 22 rushing and 24 passing TDs.
UWA receiver Seth Roberts leads the conference with nine touchdown receptions, while running backs Kedrick Rhodes and Javae Swindle have both rushed for more than 600 yards. The Tigers average 6.4 yards per rush as a team.
“Defensively they are not real flashy, but they have speed and are really big at defensive end,” Hall said. “They are long, athletic and fast.
“They have a great secondary with one of the best safeties in the conference for three years in Caleb Massey. They have the leading tackler in the conference at linebacker in Tavarius Wilson. Those guys run around and make a lot of plays.”
Often overlooked, the West Alabama defense leads the GSC in both rushing and total defense. Ryan Jones lead the conference in tackles for loss (9.5) and is second in sacks (4.0), and oh by the way, he isn’t listed as the starter at his position on the Tiger depth chart.
So many story lines with so much on the line and just 60 minutes to settle it on what promises to be a clear, crisp autumn afternoon in the Shoals of Alabama.
Maybe Sellers said it best.
“You kind of wish you could do this every week.”