WEST LONG BRANCH, N.J. — Three turnovers proved to be the difference as the University of North Alabama scored 33 points and gained more than 400 yards of offense, but came out on the short end of a 45-33 decision to Monmouth in Big South Conference football action at Kessler Stadium.
UNA fell behind 14-0 early and then trailed 31-14 in the second quarter before closing the gap to 31-27 in the third quarter. The Lions couldn't get any closer, however, as Monmouth improved to 6-3 on the season and 5-0 in Big South play. UNA is 2-7 overall and 1-3 in the Big South.
North Alabama's Dexter Boykin had a career day with 10 catches for 172 yards and one touchdown. The catches and yardage were both personal bests for Boykin.
UNA quarterback Rett Files was 17-of-28 for 254 yards and two touchdowns in the game, but was intercepted three times. Seeing his first action since the second game of the season, Jaylen Gipson was four-for-five passing for the Lions for 64 yards and two touchdowns.
North Alabama finished the game with 415 total yards, rushing for 97 and passing for 318. Monmouth had 470 total yards.
Monmouth's Lorenzo Hernandez picked off a deflected Files pass on the third play of the game, setting up the Hawk's at the UNA seven-yard line.
Monmouth would then score on its first play on a two-yard pass from Tony Muskett to Lonnie Moore, IV. The pass covered seven yards and gave the Hawks a 7-0 lead at 14:01 of the first quarter.
Monmouth made it 14-0 with a TD on its second possession on a two-yard run by Owen Wright with 10:10 still remaining in the first quarter.
The UNA offense got rolling on its third possession, covering 75 yards in nine plays for a touchdown. Key plays in the drive were a 10-yard run by Jaylen Gipson on a third-and-two call early in the possession and a 25-yard completed from Files to Corson Swan. The Lions found the end zone on a nine-yard Parker Driggers run with 5:31 left in the period. Grayson Easterling's PAT closed the gap to 14-7.
Monmouth extended its lead to 17-7 at 12:49 of the second quarter with a 24-yard field goal by Nick Null.
The Hawks pushed it to 24-7 with 9:46 left in the half on a four-yard Wright touchdown run and Null's PAT.
North Alabama stopped the Monmouth momentum with a TD drive of its own, covering 90 yards on nine plays. A 51-yard pass from Files to Dexter Boykin moved the Lions deep into Monmouth territory and Gipson hit Swan with a 15-yard pass for the touchdown. Easterling's PAT made it 24-14 with 5:35 left in the half.
The Lions then stopped a Monmouth scoring threat late in the quarter when Alonzo Craighton picked off a Muskett pass at the UNA 31-yard line.
The Hawks got the ball back and were able to score before intermission as Muskett hit Moore on a 17-yard pass to make it 31-14 with 1:06 left in the half.
UNA answered with a quick five play, 72-yard drive in just 51 seconds to make it 31-21. Files hit Cortez Hall with an eight-yard TD pass and Easterling added the PAT. The drive included receptions of six, 21 and 20 yards by Boykin, who finished the half with 116 yards receiving.
North Alabama got a defensive stop to begin the second half and then added a quick TD on a 40-yard pass from Files to Takairee Kenebrew. Easterling missed the PAT but UNA had closed the gap to 31-27 at 8:46 of the third quarter.
The Hawks extended their lead to 38-27 with 4:13 left in the third quarter on an 18-yard pass from Muskett to Wright.
Files was then picked off for the third time in the game with 3:57 left in the quarter and the Hawks got a 14-yard TD pass from Muskett to Moore to make it 45-27 with 3:51 left in the period.
K.J. Smith's sixth interception of the season gave UNA new life with 31 seconds left in the third quarter as he returned it to the Hawks' 17-yard line. After a sack, UNA's Sam Contorno missed on a 47-yard field goal attempt to keep the score at 45-27.
UNA got the ball back after a defensive stop and the Lions made it count as Gipson connected with Boykin on an 11-yard touchdown pass. The try-for-two failed but the Lions had closed the gap to 45-33 with 7:00 left in the game.
North Alabama returns home on November 13 to host Kennesaw State at 2:00 p.m.