Saturday proved to be a full day for the North Alabama football team.
The Lions left the Shoals early in the morning on a chartered flight to Texas, rested for a few hours and then went out and earned a thrilling 21-16 victory over Texas A&M-Kingsville before flying home after midnight.
The Lions (5-1) didn’t seem to mind after winning their fourth consecutive game in a rematch of the 1994 Division II Championship Game.
“It was a fun trip, but it made for a very long day,” coach Bobby Wallace said. “It was a huge win and now we’ve got to get rested and recover quickly because we’ve got two games in the next 10 days.”
UNA built an early 14-3 lead before the Javelinas took the momentum in the second half. The Javelinas cut the lead to 14-13 and had the ball at the UNA 7 when Caleb Massey intercepted a pass and raced 93 yards with the return to give the Lions a 21-13 lead.
Texas A&M-Kingsville cut the margin to 21-16 with just over four minutes remaining, but the Lions were able to run all but 28 seconds off the clock and hold on for the win.
“This was a battle, and it feels so good to win it,” senior defensive end Richie Mata’afa said. “We really feel like we earned this win. I’m just so proud of this team.”
Wallace improved to 5-0 all-time against the Javelinas, including playoff wins in 1993 and 1994. Wallace said the Lions are reminding him of another UNA team from the 1990s.
“These guys remind me a lot of our 1992 team because both teams would just find a way to win,” Wallace said. “It’s amazing with all the injuries that we’ve had that we are 5-1. These kids are playing their hearts out and I’m so happy for them.”
The road doesn’t get any easier for the Lions, who will host Gulf South Conference rival Valdosta State on Saturday. A road game at West Georgia follows the next Thursday.
“Valdosta State is always a big rivalry as well as being a big region game,” senior wide receiver Daniel Almon said. “We have to keep taking them one at a time, but making the playoffs is our goal.”
Despite the 5-1 record, Wallace said there is still plenty for the Lions to work on. UNA’s offense produced just 244 yards and made just four first downs in the second half.
“We did a lot of bad things and still we did enough good things to win,” Wallace said. “But we have to learn from our mistakes and get ready to play Valdosta State.”
Jeff McIntyre can be reached at 256-740-5737 or jeff.mcintyre@TimesDaily.com.