CLEVELAND, Miss. – Wes Holland rushed for 129 yards and the University of North Alabama defense held one of the nation's top offenses to just seven points as the Lions defeated Delta State 31-7 in a key Gulf South Conference battle.
The win keeps UNA, 7-2 overall and 4-2 in the GSC, in the running in the conference race and snaps a two-game losing skid for the Lions. Delta State falls to 6-3 overall and 5-2 in the GSC.
Delta State entered the game averaging 34.5 points per game but could manage just one score against North Alabama's defense, which leads the NCAA Division II allowing just 8.12 points per game. Only one team in nine games this season has scored more than one touchdown against the Lions.
North Alabama built a 14-0 halftime lead and then forced three DSU turnovers in the second half on the way to the 24-point win.
UNA quarterback Lee Chapple was 19-for-28 in the game for 220 yards and a touchdown. Holland gained his 129 yards on 12 carries and scored twice. The Lions picked up 426 total yards of offense using a balanced attack. UNA gained 220 passing and 206 on the ground. Delta State gained 379 total yards but the Statesmen lost a fumble, threw three interceptions and missed two field goal attempts.
UNA has now won seven of the last nine meetings in the series with Delta State since 2005. In those nine meetings, UNA has forced 32 DSU turnovers, while giving away just six for a +26 turnover margin.
North Alabama's first scoring attempt came on its opening possession as the Lions moved to the DSU nine yard line and had the ball first-and-goal. A 45-yard pass from Chapple to Tim Hawthorne covered 45 yards to move UNA deep into Statesmen territory. After the drive stalled, UNA's Josh Montgomery came on to attempt a 28-yard field goal but missed wide left.
Delta State took the ball and immediately marched to the UNA 21 before lining up for a field goal attempt of its own. The Statesmen faked the kick but UNA's Bryan Thomas made a big hit and held DSU to a one-yard loss on the play and UNA took possession.
Following a 45-yard Brandon Lucas punt return, the Statesmen began their next possession at the UNA 22-yard line. The Lion defense would answer the call again as it stopped DSU three straight plays from the three-yard line and forced another field goal attempt. This time Matt Snyder hit the upright from 24 yards out to keep the score at 0-0.
Following that miss, North Alabama drove 80 yards in nine plays to the end zone for the game's first score. Chapple completed his last five straight pass attempts on the drive, covering 60 yards, The scoring strike was a 34-yard toss to Jyrone Hickman streaking down the right sideline. Josh Montgomery added the extra point and UNA led 7-0 with 14:53 left in the second quarter.
The Lions next score was set-up by a Delta State miscue. DSU punter Tyler Caldwell was back to kick from his own 25 and dropped the snap from center. The ball was recovered by UNA's Jusmon Rivers at the 25. North Alabama scored on its next offensive play as Wes Holland took a handoff and went straight up the middle of the field, 25 yards to the end zone. It was Holland's fifth rushing touchdown of the season. Montgomery added the PAT and UNA led 14-0 with 5:31 left in the half.
Delta State blew another scoring opportunity just before the half when Snyder attempted a 34-yard field goal and again hit the right upright, sending UNA into the half with a 14-0 lead. It marked the first time this season that Delta State had been held scoreless in the first half.
The Statesmen used 11 plays to score on their opening possession of the second half as Micah Davis threw a 27-yard TD pass on L.J. Castile on a fourth-and-seven call. Matt Dean added the PAT and UNA's lead was cut to 14-7 with 8:09 remaining in the third quarter.
UNA answered the score with a nine-play, 69-yard touchdown drive of its own. The Lions picked up 46 of those yards on the ground, with Chris Coffey gaining the final 17. He had a 13-yard carry to the Delta State four and then scored on the next play. Montgomery's PAT made it 21-7 with 4:14 left in the third period.
Darnell Jackson picked off a Davis pass at the UNA 25 and the Lions quickly turned the turnover into points. The 75-yard drive took six plays and Holland capped it with UNA's longest run of the season – a 41-yard jaunt to the end zone. Montgomery's PAT pushed the lead to 28-7 with 14:48 left in the game.
Hilliard Foster picked off a Davis' pass on the next DSU possession but UNA was unable to score. Harrison Bryant then gave UNA an interception on three straight possessions as he picked off Davis at the UNA 35. The Lions offense then put together a time consuming drive that ended with a 23-yard Montgomery field goal to make it 31-7 with 6:09 left in the game.
The win was the 40th for UNA's Senior Class of 2010 as they improved their collective record to 40-8. The group becomes the seventh in UNA history to win as many as 40 games during its four years at UNA.
North Alabama returns to Braly Stadium next weekend for its final home game of the regular season. The Lions will host West Alabama on Nov. 6 with kickoff set for 6 p.m.