The University of North Alabama recovered an onside kick with less than two minutes to go to preserve a 23-17 win over third ranked Abilene Christian in the Lone Star Football Festival at Cowboys Stadium Saturday. The Lions, ranked fourth in Division II, led 16-0 after the first period and led 23-10 in the closing minutes before fumbling the ball into the Wildcats' end zone, killing a potential scoring threat that would have ended the game.
Abilene Christian responded with a 10-play, 80-yard drive to score with 1:42 left to make it 23-17. But North Alabama was able to recover the onside kick and then ran the clock out.
The win improves UNA's record to 3-0 overall, while Abilene Christian falls to 1-1. The win also keeps UNA perfect all-time against the Lone Star Conference at 5-0.
"This was really a very special win," said UNA head coach Terry Bowden. "To come out here and play the No. 3 team in the country in its own backyard, in an incredible atmosphere, and get a win - I couldn't be more happy."
UNA's defense was on the field for 85 plays and gave up 493 total yards, but it also forced four ACU turnovers and returned one for a touchdown. UNA's offense gained 348 total yards with 108 rushing and 240 passing.
UNA quarterback Lee Chapple said getting off to a quick start was key for the Lions. "We hadn't been able to get off to a fast start this year and it was huge for our momentum today," he said. "The intensity has been high all week and we were focused and I think that made a big difference in the game."
North Alabama scored on its first three possessions of the game, starting all three drives inside Abilene Christian territory. After UNA kicker Michael Schuster got a touchback on the opening kickoff of the game, the Wildcats went three-and-out and a short punt set UNA up at the ACU 49-yard line. After picking up one first down, UNA brought on Nathen O'Jibway to boot a 45-yard field goal. The kick gave UNA a 3-0 lead at 11:20 of the first quarter.
A DeAndre Morgan interception of a Mitchell Gale pass at the Abilene Christian 33-yard line set up UNA's second score. The Lions covered the 33 yards in just four plays with Lee Chapple passing 23 yards to Tristan Purifoy for the touchdown. O'Jibway's extra point made it 10-0 with 8:58 left in the first quarter.
Abilene Christian put together an eight-play drive that moved to the North Alabama 20 on its next possession but Jonathan Byrd picked off a Gale pass and returned it 46 yards to the ACU 39 to stop the threat. The Lions scored just three plays later as Antwan Ivey raced to the end zone from nine yards out. A 30-yard pass from Chapple to Ivey helped set up the score. O'Jibway missed on his PAT attempt but UNA led 16-0 with 5:57 left in the first period
The Lions missed another scoring opportunity early in the second quarter when O'Jibway was just wide right on a 44-yard field goal attempt.
Abilene Christian finally broke through with a score with 4:46 left in the half on a 12-play, 96-yard drive. The score came on a 17-yard pass from Gale to Taylor Gabriel. Morgan Lineberry added the extra point to make it 16-7. The Lions responded by driving to the Abilene 35 but the drive stalled and UNA turned the ball over on downs. The Wildcats then put together a 10-play drive that eventually stalled at the UNA 10 and Lineberry kicked a 27-yard field goal to make it 16-10 with 16 seconds left in the half.
The Wildcats gained 342 yards in the first half with 93 rushing and 249 passing. Gale was 18-of-35 with two interceptions. Chapple was 13-of-21 for 176 yards and one score. Ivey had 42 yards on seven carries for the Lions in the half.
North Alabama threatened on its first possession of the second half, driving from its own 20 to the Abilene 19. Facing fourth down and 15, the Lions attempted a field goal but O'Jibway missed wide left on a 37-yard attempt. The score remained 16-10 at 11:38 of the third quarter.
A 42-yard punt return by Janoris Jenkins set up another scoring opportunity for UNA at the Abilene Christian 20 but the Lions were forced to attempt another field goal. This time Josh Montgomery's 37-yard attempt was blocked with 8:27 left in the third quarter.
With Abilene Christian driving late in the third quarter, Marcus Dowtin forced a fumble and Jenkins returned it 50 yards for a touchdown. Montgomery added the PAT and UNA extended its lead to 23-10.
After forcing the fourth ACU turnover of the day, UNA drove to the Wildcats' one but fumbled the ball into the end zone. Abilene Christian's touchdown came on a five-yard pass from Gale to Gabriel.
Chapple was 22-of-37 for 240 yards and a touchdown for UNA. Ivey rushed 12 times for 67 yards. Gale finished 33-of-59 for 390 yards and two TDs.
. UNA hosts Harding for Homecoming on Sept. 24 at Braly Stadium.