Lions back to work

UNA plays seven straight games, travel to Kennesaw State Saturday
UNA Lions Head Football Coach Chris Willis addresses the Media October 3, 2022.
UNA Lions Head Football Coach Chris Willis addresses the Media October 3, 2022.(WAFF)
Published: Oct. 4, 2022 at 11:30 PM CDT
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - After four straight non-conference games to open the season and an open date, the University of North Alabama will play its first-ever ASUN Conference football game this Saturday when the Lions travel to Kennesaw State.

Kickoff is set for 5:02 p.m. Central on Saturday at Fifth Third Bank Stadium.

Although this is North Alabama’s fifth season on the Division I FCS level, it is the Lions first year as a member of the ASUN Conference, and also the first season where UNA can compete for a conference championship.

North Alabama was an FCS independent in 2018, competed in the Big South Conference in 2019 and 2021 and did not play a conference schedule in the 2020 COVID-19 shortened season.

Both UNA and Kennesaw State enter the game with 1-3 overall records.

“This is our first ASUN Conference game ever and and our first conference game in the last five years that actually counts,” said UNA head coach Chris Willis. “We want to get off to a good start.

“That won’t be easy because Kennesaw State is a really good football team, despite their record,” “One of their losses is to Cincinnati, who was an FBS playoff team last year. They also took a really good Jacksonville State team to overtime and had chances to win that game on the road,” Willis added.

“Coach Bohannon’s teams will fight you tooth and nail and they really limit your offensive opportunities,” Willis said. “We will have to control the ball and try and steal a possession or two, however we can do that. We played them well last year and had a chance to win the game and this one will be another tough battle.”

This will be the third meeting between the Lions and Owls, with the previous two meetings in 2019 and 2021 as Big South Conference games. KSU downed the Lions 41-17 at Fifth Third Bank Stadium in 2019 and 28-24 at Braly Stadium in Florence last season.

A youth movement is leading the UNA offense this season with true freshman Noah Walters of Lincoln, Neb., at quarterback and sophomore ShunDerrick Powell of Hoxie, Ark., as the featured back.

Walters, the 2021 state of Nebraska Gatorade Player of the Year, will be making his third start of the season. He has thrown 638 yards and five touchdowns and is also UNA’s second leading rusher.

Powell is nationally ranked in the Top Ten of seven FCS categories so far this season, including ranking second nationally with an average of 143.2 rushing yards per game and 9.1 yards per carry. Powell has already rushed for more than 200 yards in a game twice in UNA’s last three outings and has eight total touchdowns to rank among the leading scorers in the FCS as well. Five of Powell’s eight touchdown runs have come from 30 yards or longer, including two 75-yard TD runs.

The UNA defense, which started the season strong, has struggled to get off the field the last two games, giving up 41 points at Chattanooga and 43 to Tarleton State.

Kennesaw State is averaging 19.7 points per game, while allowing 36.7.

The Owls always strong ground attack is picking up 198 yards per game, but the KSU defense is giving up 291 passing yards and 414 total yards per contest.

Part of UNA’s effort to control the ball and will depend on ball security. The Lions are a plus-four in turnover margin this season and have not lost a fumble all year. On the flip side, the UNA defense has forced eight turnovers and has caused at least one turnover in each of its four games in 2022. The last team to not turn the ball over against the Lions was Kennesaw State in 2021.

This game starts a streak of five straight ASUN games for North Alabama.

Their next contest will be an October 15 matchup with Jacksonville State at Toyota Field in Madison, Ala.