The University of North Alabama got its seventh straight win and secured itself a spot in the NCAA Division II playoffs with an impressive 44-7 road win over Tarleton State at Memorial Stadium.
UNA led 10-0 at the half and scored on all five its second half possessions to roll to the win. The Lions finished their regular-season with an 8-2 record and were ranked third in Super Region 2 entering the game. The top six teams in each Super Region advance to the playoffs, with the pairings announced Sunday at 4 p.m.
Tarleton State entered the game with a 7-2 record and the Texans were ranked sixth in Super Region 4 with a chance to secure a playoff slot of their own. But the UNA defense turned one of its top performances of the season, holding a TSU team that entered the game averaging better than 490 total yards, 334 passing yards and 37 points per outing to just seven points and 290 total yards. TSU was just 10-of-26 passing and UNA picked off two passes.
The North Alabama offense rushed for 293 yards and passed for 208 to finish with 501 total yards.
Luke Wingo was nine-of-14 passing for 174 yards and two scores and Jacob Tucker was three-of-four for 34 yards and a touchdown. Lamonte Thompson got his second consecutive 100-yard rushing game and third of the season with 113 yards on 17 carries. Lee Mayhall also had his first career 100-yard receiving game with 147 yards on five catches. He scored twice.
After the game's first four possessions ended in punts, UNA got its first scoring opportunity after Gabe Poe picked off a Jake Fenske pass and returned it 33 yards to the Tarleton 17-yard line. Two runs by Lamonte Thompson gained 15 yards and Jacob Tucker covered the final two on a short touchdown run. Will Craig's PAT gave UNA a 7-0 lead with 4:46 left in the first quarter.
UNA's next score came on an eight-play, 87-yard drive as the Lions drove out of the shadow of their own goal line to the Texans' two. Facing a fourth-and-goal, UNA brought on Craig for a 20-yard field goal that extended the Lions' lead to 10-0 at 11:32 of the second period.
Tarleton squandered a scoring opportunity just before the half when the Texans drove from their own 27 to the UNA 18. On a fourth-and-two call, TSU's Zach Henshaw was stopped short of the first down and UNA took over with just 1:09 left in the half.
North Alabama quickly added to its lead on the opening drive of the second half, marching 78 yards on eight plays. Wingo connected with Lee Mayhall on passes of 44 and four yards to move the ball deep into Texans territory. He then found him again with a 22-yard touchdown pass with 11:09 remaining in the third quarter. Craig's PAT made it 17-0.
The Texans answered with their first score of the day, driving 75 yards in just six plays behind back-up quarterback Collin Strahan. He completed three passes on the drive, including a 19-yarder for a touchdown to Bubba Tandy. Blake Barnes added the extra-point to make it 17-7 with 8:42 left in the third quarter.
UNA got its second straight scoring drive, overcoming three consecutive penalties at one point to put the ball in the end zone. The Lions faced a third-and-16 at their own 48 but Wingo was able to find Mayhall again and he weaved through would-be tacklers for a 52-yard touchdown reception. Craig's PAT made it 24-7 at 4:51 of the third quarter.
The UNA defense got a quick three-and-out against the Texans and the UNA offense was on the move again. Tucker engineered a 68-yard drive with two key third down runs for first downs. He then then hit Mayhall for a 20-yard gain and passed the Chris Simpson for the final 15 and the touchdown. Craig's extra-point attempt missed after a high snap but UNA led 30-7 with 13:10 remaining in the game.
The Lions scored on their fourth straight possession of the second half when Tucker led a 67-yard drive for a touchdown. The TD came on a fourth-and-goal from the one when Tucker raced in off left tackle. Craig's PAT made it 37-7 with 4:17 left in the game.
The final UNA score came on a 25-yard run by Diamond Simmons with 2:09 left in the game to make it 44-7.
UNA is now 8-1 all-time against schools from the state of Texas.
The Lions will learn Sunday at 4 p.m. if they will advance to the 2013 NCAA Division II Football Playoffs. A total of 24 teams will be selected with six from each of the NCAA's four Super Regions. UNA was ranked third in Super Region 2 entering its game with Tarleton State.