There were mistakes and missed opportunities for North Alabama, but the Lions weren’t ready to head back to Florence quite yet on Saturday.
The Lions (3-7) hung with No. 19 Monmouth (8-2) in the first half and after falling behind in third quarter, scored two touchdowns and recovered an onside kick in the final minute of the game, losing 49-38.
Starting quarterback Christian Lopez wasn’t perfect, turning the ball over three times but he scored four total touchdowns, with two of them coming in the closing stretch of the game.
It was a game where the Lions played like they’re weren’t out of it despite the scoring margin and they walked off the field confident they’re able to play with the best of the Big South Conference.
“We keep saying ‘well maybe through the transition,’” head coach Chris Willis said. “But we’re nipping at the heels of a lot of teams in this league.”
Pressure gets to Lions
The Lions had trouble corralling the pressure off the edges from the Hawks, who made Lopez work and move around in the pocket.
It led to five sacks, which put UNA behind in the chains making it all the more difficult to convert. But it also led to turnovers, as Lopez was chased around all day and had trouble taking care of the football.
Monmouth had 11 tackles for loss, having success against the UNA offensive line that didn’t have Ethan McMullan due to injury and also had Jacob Gentle and Cody Mann, both previously injured, get hurt but still return throughout the game.
The pressure made the difference especially in the third quarter when Monmouth widened its lead before UNA came back late in the game.
“It was tough this week without Ethan (McMullan), but we had guys step in and we were young but I was proud of the way they fought,” Lopez said.
Costly turnovers, missed opportunities
The Lions fumbled four times and lost three. Two of those fumbles came in crucial moments.
The first came when UNA got to the Monmouth 16-yard line and Lopez scrambled and lost the ball. The second came on the ensuing drive, when Lopez and Carson couldn’t handle the exchange and the ball came loose, recovered by the Hawks.
It was a large reason why UNA fell behind, as another fumble came from pressure by Monmouth, as Lopez was scrambling and lost the ball in the third quarter.
Lopez manages offense, with help
Despite his mistakes taking care of the ball, Lopez finished with a good outing, scoring four total touchdowns, with one on the ground, along with 383 yards and three scores through the air.
He had some help, however. Cortez Hall had catches for 80 yards and a touchdown, Jakobi Byrd had five catches 117 yards and Dexter Boykin had three catches for 52 yards and a touchdown.
Other players that weren’t receivers got in the mix, too, especially with the big play. Running back Jaxton Carson had two catches for 54 yards and a touchdown and Corson Swan had two catches for 53 yards.