Early in game week, new/old University of North Alabama coach Bobby Wallace was talking about his first eight months on the job and how just about everything had gone smoothly.
He was welcomed back to the university and the community with open arms, and his team seemed to embrace the change from former coach Terry Bowden.
Of course, all that was before the Lions played a single snap in a meaningful game. It’s pretty easy to fall in line with the new regime when everything is hunky-dory.
Being the 24-year veteran coach that he is, Wallace knew that at some point his team would face adversity. And he was eager to see how it and his coaching staff would respond.
In his time back, Wallace said he rarely mentioned the three championships UNA won during his previous stint at the university.
“I do bring up how we won those championships,” he said. “Having good players, sound coaching and the intangibles — unselfishness, team camaraderie and work ethic — those are all things I believe in strongly and I saw them work with our players.
“We talk about what it takes to win; I don’t talk about particular years or plays. They know the past,” he continued. “But to understand it fully, we’re not there yet. We have got to have some adversity.”
Wallace said his new team would learn more about him and itself when faced with adversity in the heat of battle.
“We’ve got to see how we’ll work together under fire — not only the players but the coaching staff,” he said. “They haven’t seen me react to a situation during a game. I might react different than they think I will. We have to get on the same page on how we handle certain situations. There’s no way to practice that; we just have to go through that during the season.”
If Sunday night’s 31-30 win against Miles is any indication, Wallace won’t have to fret about how the Lions will react when things are not going their way.
After building a comfortable 24-7 halftime lead in dominating fashion, UNA faced more than its share of adversity in the final 30 minutes as Miles mounted a comeback. UNA’s running game, efficient in the first half, stalled in the second. A turnover led to a Miles touchdown.
A late field goal by the Golden Bears tied it with just over three minutes to play.
And the Lions responded. Jason Smith was in the right place to scoop up a fumble and turn it into a positive gain and a first down to keep the drive alive. Anything less and the Lions would be 0-1 today instead of 1-0.
Chris Alexander had two of his seven completions on what proved to be the winning drive, including the 40-yard TD pass to Brian Sutherland.
When Miles marched methodically down the field and pulled within a point of tying it, UNA’s defense seemed gassed and on its heels. Sensing opportunity, Miles coach Reginald Ruffin went for the win.
The 31-30 final tells you how the Lions responded to the adversity. Tavarius Wilson and Delvin Irvin summoned up one last tackle, one last-gasp effort on a humid night at Legion Field, knocking Jordan Lewis to the ground two yards short of the end zone.
Wallace was eager to see how UNA would respond to adversity. That’s one aspect it looks like he can mark off his checklist. On Sunday night, UNA did just fine in that regard. Kinda like the old Lions, you know, those teams from 1993-95.
Gregg Dewalt can be reached at 256-740-5748 or Gregg.email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @greggdewalt.