UWA claims second straight GSC title with win
Kyle Caldwell passed for 299 yards and three touchdowns and Javae Swindle ran for 182 and scored three times to lead West Alabama to a 63-17 Gulf South Conference victory over Shorter Saturday at Tiger Stadium.
The win earns West Alabama at share of the GSC championship, giving the Tigers back-to-back conference titles for the first time in school history.
“After last year we wanted to show everyone that this program is not just a flash in the pan and to win two conference championships in a row helps prove that,” UWA head coach Will Hall said. “This was a big win for our university and our fans.”
West Alabama is 7-3 overall and finishes conference play with a 5-1 record. North Alabama is also 5-1 in league play. Delta State could make it a three-way tie with a victory over West Georgia next week. Shorter dropped to 1-9 and 0-6.
West Alabama rolled up 582 yards total offense, while limiting Shorter to just 178. The Tigers limited the Hawks to just five total yards in the third quarter and 82 in the final three quarters.
“We had to adjust some at first, but Coach (Robert) Henry told us it would take a couple of series for us to get used to what they were doing,” safety Robert Jones said. “After that, we felt like we knew what they were doing. There wasn’t too much they could do that we hadn’t prepared for.”
Twenty-four different UWA defenders made a tackle, led by Jones, Mario Gainer and DeQuante Shockley with five each. Gainer had a sack, a tackle for loss and recovered a fumble. Shockley also recovered a fumble.
Swindle’s 182 yards gives him 1,016 for the season, making him just the third back in West Alabama history to run for more than a 1,000 in a season. The last was Matt Willis with 1,606 yards on 2011. The sophomore from Thorsby, Ala., has rushed for 412 yards in the last two games.
“I’m feeling like I have my mojo back, like the offensive line and I are on the same page,” Swindle said. “It’s a great feeling. I don’t really know how to explain it.”
Caldwell completed 18-of-24 passing attempts and was not intercepted. He now has 5,074 career passing yards, moving him past Marty Washington (92-93) into third place on the UWA all-time list.
“We wanted to get some more yards in the air tonight and had been planning that all week,” Caldwell said. “We knew they couldn’t guard Chad (Toocheck) and Seth (Roberts), that it was a mismatch on the corners.”
Roberts caught seven passes for 140 yards and his 10th touchdown of the season. Toocheck had six receptions for 121 yards and two scores, giving him 10 TD catches as well.
Shorter drew first blood on a 1-yard touchdown run by quarterback Eric Dodson, capping a seven-play, 80-yard drive at the 11:38 mark of the first quarter.
West Alabama took three plays to strike back, with Caldwell connecting with Roberts for a 48-yard touchdown pass to tie the score at 7-7 with 9:54 left in the first period.
Swindle ripped off a 43-run for a UWA touchdown on the Tigers’ next possession to give UWA a 14-7 lead with 4:25 left in the first period. West Alabama’s first two scoring drives were three and six plays respectively.
Caldwell connected with Toocheck on a 38-yard scoring pass on the last play of the first quarter, capping a seven-play, 95-yard drive and giving the Tigers a 21-7 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Bradley Moon returned the ensuing kickoff 82 yards to the West Alabama 4-yard line. Four plays later B.J. McCoy scored from 2-yards out to cut the West Alabama lead to 21-14 early in second quarter.
Josh White recovered a Caldwell fumble on UWA’s next possession at the Tiger 12 yard line, which eventually led to a 48-yard field goal by Guy Hunt, cutting the UWA lead to 21-17 with 9:46 to play in the first half.
An errant punt snap gave Shorter the ball on the UWA 15 yard line one possession later. The Hawks were forced into a 25-yard field attempt that Malcolm Butler blocked to keep the Hawks off the scoreboard.
“There are things that you have to fix, but we were up 35-17 at the half without playing perfect,” Hall said. “Our kickoff coverage was not good, but I think part of that was us not kicking it to the right spot. Our passing game picked up though and that was good to see.”
Swindle ripped off a 64-yard run on the next play following the blocked field goal, which led to a 2-yard touchdown run by Gary Johnston to increase the West Alabama lead to 28-17 with 4:36 left in the first half.
Caldwell and Toocheck hooked up again for a West Alabama touchdown with 23 seconds left in the half to give the Tigers a 35-17 lead at the break.
West Alabama went 69 yards on seven plays on its first possession of the second half to go up 42-17. The drive was capped off by a 2-yard touchdown run by Swindle.
A Shorter fumble on its first possession of the second half was recovered by Gainer on the Hawks 19 yard line. Caldwell covered the 19 yards on the next play to put UWA up 49-17 with 11:34 left in the third period.
Swindle added his third TD run of the game midway through the third quarter, a 14-yarder that gave UWA a 56-17 lead. Johnston’s 4-yard touchdown run made it 63-17 with just over 10 minutes left.
West Alabama closes the regular season Saturday by hosting Central State. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. at Tiger Stadium. Shorter wraps up it season by traveling to Point.