For the fourth time in five road games this season, the University of North Alabama will face a nationally ranked FCS opponent when the Lions travel to West Long Branch, N.J. Saturday to face 20th ranked Monmouth. Kickoff is set for 11:00 a.m. Central at Kessler Stadium.
UNA, 3-6 overall after a 25-24 home win over Campbell last Saturday, is still looking for its first road win of the year as it faces a 7-2 Monmouth squad that just moved into the Top 20 this week after destroying previously fourth ranked Kennesaw State on the road.
North Alabama has already faced nationally ranked programs in Montana, Jacksonville State and Kennesaw State on the road as the Lions continue to battle through their first season of a full, 11-game FCS schedule.
“This will be another tough challenge on the road for us,” said UNA head football coach Chris Willis. “Monmouth has a veteran team with a lot of fifth-year seniors and they are very physical on both sides of the ball. They were 8-3 last season and somehow didn’t make the playoffs, and their ranking this year doesn’t do them justice. They are a really good football team and I’m amazed at what they did to Kennesaw State, because they also have a good football team.”
Willis said his team was given a boost with its last second win over Campbell on a 20-yard Joe Gurley field goal as time expired and will try to continue that momentum against Monmouth.
“My concern was that in our first year with a full FCS schedule, that if we lost some early that we might lose our fight, but that hasn’t happened,” Willis said. “This team hasn’t show any signs of quitting. They’ve been a joy to coach and they have fought and continue to give us their best effort. I’m proud of them and it gives us hope, as one of the youngest teams in the conference, for what we can do the rest of this season and in the future.”
One key for success for the Lions this season is to hold on to the football. North Alabama has turned the ball over in six of its nine games this season but the Lions are 3-0 in the three games where they did not lose a turnover against Western Illinois, Presbyterian and Campbell.
This will be the first meeting between North Alabama and Monmouth and will also mark the first time that a UNA football team has played against a school from New Jersey, as well as in New Jersey. Prior to the 2019 season, UNA had played schools from 26 different states. The Lions added Montana on September 7 and will add New Jersey this week.
UNA has played 109 games against nationally ranked opponents since 1992. The Lions are 61-47-1 in those 109 meetings wth ranked opponents over the last 27 seasons.
UNA senior quarterback Christian Lopez came off the bench against Campbell to lead the Lions to the 25-24 win. It was Lopez’s fifth time to lead the Lions to a game-winning score in the fourth quarter in the last two seasons, but was the first for him coming off the bench. After a three-interception night against Charleston Southern, Lopez was replaced as starting quarterback for Kennesaw and Campbell. Lopez entered the Campbell game for three different series prior to the game-winning drive.
The play of redshirt sophomore Andre Little was also key as he had six catches for 118 yards, including a 39-yard catch on third down on the game-winning drive. He also a 94-yard kickoff return for touchdown for UNA’s first score of the day.
The UNA defense will be tested by Monmouth quarterback Kenji Bahar, who leads the Big South in total offense this season. He has thrown for 2,374 yards and 17 touchdowns and rushed for 192 yards and three scores.
Following the trip to Monmouth, the Lions will close out their season on the road at Gardner-Webb.