For the sixth time in series history, the University of North Alabama and Valdosta State University will both carry Top 10 NCAA Division II rankings into their Gulf South Conference meeting Saturday at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium in Valdosta. UNA, 3-0 overall and 2-0 in the GSC, is ranked eighth nationally. The Blazers, also 3-0 but playing their first league contest, are ranked ninth.
In the 40 all-time meetings, both teams have been nationally ranked in 17 of the contests and at least one has been ranked in 28 of the meetings.
UNA head football coach Bobby Wallace says the matchup with the Blazers will be a similar battle to the one the Lions saw this past weekend in a 55-48 win over Florida Tech.
"Every game is going to be just like the one we played last Saturday," said Wallace. "Every conference game is going to be tough against a quality opponent and will be a battle down to the wire."
The unbeaten records and national rankings have become almost a common component of the series for two schools with similar impressive pedigrees in Division II. The Lions and Blazers have each won three Division II National Championships, have made a combined 33 playoff appearances, winning 13 NCAA regional titles and 17 GSC titles. VSU has produced three Harlon Hill Trophy winners and UNA two, both have three inductees in the Division II Football Hall of Fame and one each in the College Football Hall of Fame. There have also been six seasons where the Lions and Blazers faced off in both the regular-season and post-season.
"This will be a typical Valdosta State-UNA game where it's a game of great importance to both teams," Wallace said. "This will be their first conference game of the year so they'll be excited about that and want to get off to a good start. They'll also be fired up to be playing us."
Wallace said this year's VSU team will be similar to the one UNA saw last November,
"They have a transfer quarterback who has really good stats through the first three games and can run the football, so he'll be a dual threat," Wallace said. "And they have two great running backs returning. They are also the last team that we lost to in the playoffs last year and they handled us pretty good with their offense so that's a challenge for us. We threw for 511 yards on offense and still lost the game."
VSU is averaging 36 points and 395 yards per game on offense, while allowing just 12 points and 235 yards on defense. Quarterback E.J. Hilliard has throw for 669 yards and seven touchdowns and running backs Cedric O'Neal and Austin Scott have combined for 275 rushing yards and five scores.
UNA counters with the GSC Offensive Player of the Week in senior quarterback Luke Wingo. Wingo accounted for 462 total yards and four touchdowns in the Lions win over Florida Tech last weekend and threw for more than 500 yards against the Blazers in the last meeting between the two schools. UNA senior running back Lamonte Thompson ranks fourth nationally in rushing entering the game. He has opened the season with three consecutive 100-plus yard rushing games and averages more than 160 rushing yards per game. Among his 11 career 100-yard rushing games are two against VSU in 2012 and 2014.
A strange twist in the series is that the road team has won seven of the last eight meetings and UNA has won the last four consecutive games played in Valdosta by a combined score of 192-77. UNA defeated VSU 62-27 in 2009, 43-20 in the 2010 NCAA playoffs, 30-23 in the 2011 and 57-7 in 2013. The Blazers last win over UNA on their home field was 37-23 in 2007. The last home team to win in the series was UNA with a 31-29 win in 2014 on a 54-yard field goal on the final play of the game. All-time, the home field has not been a great advantage in the series either. UNA is 11-8 against the Blazers in Florence and 11-8-1 against the Blazers in Valdosta.In the last four meetings in Florence, the Blazers won by narrow margins of five, three and two points and UNA's lone win was by two points.
This will be the 93rd game since 1992 that UNA has played against a nationally ranked opponent and the Lions are 55-36-1 in those meetings. UNA is 28-20 in its last 48 games against Top 10 teams.
With a win against the Blazers, Wallace would become the winningest football coach in UNA history. He is currently tied with Hal Self with 109 wins. Self won his 109 games over 21 seasons from 1949-69. Wallace has 109 wins in just his 14th season at UNA. Wallace already ranks as the winningest football coach in Gulf South Conference history with 135 wins in 19 seasons in the league.
Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. Central (2:00 Eastern) at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium in Valdosta.