HAMPTON, Va. — It’s almost as if North Alabama slept through its alarm clock in the first half of its 40-34 loss to Hampton.
Whatever transpired in the locker room at halftime proved to be a jolt of energy to wake the Lions up. But much like when sleeping through an alarm clock, often times it’s still too late.
That was the case Saturday, as UNA (2-4, 0-1 Big South) made plays down the stretch but a last-minute effort to win the game fell short — a penalty negated an onside kick recovery and Hampton (3-2, 1-0) held on to win.
“It shouldn’t have come down to that,” UNA head coach Chris Willis said. “The energy was there, we played a great second half. Gotta finish it off. This team has to learn to finish things off.”
When UNA trotted off the field to head to the locker room for halftime, however, the situation was grim, especially offensively. Hampton jumped out to a 20-2 to lead and the UNA offense had only mustered 43 yards. Quarterback Christian Lopez was struggling, going 3 for 9 with 20 yards passing. UNA tried back-up quarterback Blake Dever for a series. The Lions were searching for answers.
But that change might have sparked something in Lopez and the rest of the UNA offense after halftime. The Lions managed to get 291 yards in the second half and scored 30 points. Lopez had four touchdown passes in the half alone.
“Yeah, he came out and played better,” Willis said. “Still, we missed on some throws. But one thing we learned today, they ain’t quitting.”
UNA forced three turnovers with interceptions from defensive back Jeffery Battle, linebacker Jalen Dread and safety D’Andre Hart.
Dread returned his interception for a touchdown but it was called back on a holding penalty. However, it eventually resulted in a touchdown for the offense, and Hart’s interception did the same.
“Everybody started rolling and I think that pick set it off,” Dread said. “We all started getting juiced and started rolling from there.”
Unfortunately for UNA, the interceptions were one of the few ways that the defense stopped Hampton quarterback Deondre Francois and the Pirates offense. The Florida State transfer Francois still managed to get 347 passing yards and three touchdowns despite the interceptions.
The key, however, was running back Will Robinson. The redshirt sophomore finished with 92 rushing yards and a touchdown. He was huge in the screen game, catching four passes for 93 yards, and was a major catalyst in helping Hampton covert eight of its 15 third down attempts.
“It’s a little frustrating … we’re not getting off the field on third down,” Hart said. “The good thing about it is, that’s what we’ve got to work on.”
Even when Francois found Hampton receiver Jadakis Bonds for a 41-yard touchdown to put them up 40-27, UNA still fought its way back into the game. Lopez brought the offense down the field thanks to some big catches from tight end Corson Swan, who caught a 18-yard touchdown pass with 2:18 to go.
That set up the onside kick, which UNA recovered, but a player on the opposite side of the field was offsides. The Lions kicked again, but the ball was illegally touched, which effectively ended the game.
“I’m proud of the second-half effort. (But) it’s been (this) way all year. We’re one yard short,” WIllis said. “We haven’t been able to overcome that.”
UNA will head back to Florence with a bye week on the horizon, an opportunity to recharge and right the ship with five games remaining in the season.
“We got to figure out how to finish this strong,” Willis said.