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UNA comes from behind, runs away with home opener to D1 era

Lions went down 14-0 early, went on to rout of D2 Virginia-Wise 49-17

FLORENCE, Ala. — In their first home game as a full-fledged member of the NCAA’s Division I FCS classification, the University of North Alabama came from behind to beat the University of Virginia-Wise 49-17.

Spirits were high at Braly Stadium for the home game of the year, but Virginia-Wise came to play. 

The Cavaliers started with the ball and got down to the redzone on their first drive. After successfully attempting a field goal, UNA was called for a penalty, allowing the Cavs to bring out the offense. They respond by calling a quarterback keeper for Lendon Redwine, who pushes it in for the score.

On the next Cavs possession, Redwine aired it out on second down and receiver Tyler Kirkess came down with the insane one-handed grab for the Virginia-Wise touchdown. A successful point-after made it a 14-0 game and left the crowd stunned.

Lions senior free safety Kyree Fields says he thought the defensive unit came out “lazy,” underestimating the Division II Cavaliers.

UNA started freshman quarterback Noah Walters, who Willis said didn’t have a great night, but managed the game “like a veteran” on the sidelines with his teammates and coaches. Walters finished with only 96 passing yards on the game. He did not complete any of his seven pass attempts in the second half, finishing with a 7/21 (33%) mark on the night. Willis said Walters will start next week’s game at Chattanooga.

UNA finally put a successful drive together on their first series of the second quarter. On 1st and 10 from their own 25, ShunDerrick Powell took the handoff, evaded the front line of Cav defenders and exploded down the middle of the field for a 75-yard rushing touchdown. It took over 17 minutes of game action, but the Lions got on the board with one play. The crowd was back on their side at this point.

The teams would trade scores for the rest of the second quarter, but unfortunately for UVA-Wise, they only achieved a field goal, whereas the host Lions put players in the endzone, allowing them to take the lead going into the half.

From there-on, it was all UNA, as the Lions scored four more times in the second half. A pair of those scores in the second stanza came off explosive rushes by Powell for 31 and 41 yards, respectively. These helped him achieve a new UNA single-game rushing record. He would finish with 261 yards, which he ultimately accomplished on an eight-yard rush up the middle with under five minutes left in the fourth quarter. Powell is the 13th player in UNA history to rush for over 200 yards in a game, a mark last met in 2000 when the Lions were a triple option offense.

Willis said he’s wary of designing plays for getting records, fearing it could “come back to get you.” But, given the down, distance, time and score, he substituted Powell back in to get that draw play for the record.

With the win, the Lions move to 1-1 on the year. They’ll travel to Chattanooga next week for the third all-time meeting between the two schools. The Mocs lead the series 2-0, after winning in Florence last year 25-0. UNA returns home the following week to face Tarleton State.

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