Coming off a huge road win over Texas A&M-Kingsville that has the University of North Alabama at 5-1 overall, the Lions return to Gulf South Conference play to face long-time rival Valdosta State Saturday at Braly Stadium at 6 p.m..
The Blazers, a pre-season nationally ranked squad, have slipped twice in the early season, losing a road contest at Saginaw Valley State and a home tilt to West Alabama. But VSU brings an overall 4-2 record to Braly Stadium, a 1-1 conference mark and one of the highest scoring teams in Division II.
While Valdosta State was expected to contend for the GSC and NCAA titles in 2012, North Alabama has continued to exceed outside pre-season expectations with its 5-1 mark and four-game winning streak. After all, the Lions entered the season with just five total returning starters and have already played 24 freshmen this season - but they continue to find ways to win.
Valdosta State is averaging 42.8 points per game and has scored a combined 100 points in its last two games. Overall, the Blazers have topped the 40 point mark four times this season.
UNA counters with the top scoring defense in the Gulf South Conference. After allowing a combined 61 points in its first two games, the Lions' defense has given up just two touchdowns in the last 16 quarters and is now averaging allowing just 14.8 points per game.
Valdosta State leads the GSC in rushing (244.2), passing (239.0) and total offense (483.2).
VSU receiver Gerald Ford is a big-play threat and leads the GSC in scoring with eight receiving touchdowns. He averages 17 yards per catch. Running backs Austin Scott and Cedric O'Neal and quarterback Cayden Cochran are threats running the football and each has scored at least three TDs this season.
Offensively UNA continues to rely primarily on the ground attack, averaging 237.2 yards per game. The Lions are picking up just 102 yards per game passing but have had success by hanging on to the football and avoiding penalties. UNA is the 12th least penalized team in Division II, 10th in the nation in turnovers gained and 19th in turnover margin.
The UNA defense has feasted on opponent's passes in recent weeks and now has 12 interceptions. A pick and 93-yard return for touchdown last week by Caleb Massey provided the winning margin in UNA's 21-16 win at Texas A&M-Kingsville.
The series is a storied one, with at least one team nationally ranked in 25 of the 35 previous all-time meetings. In 14 previous battle, both teams were ranked. The Lions and Blazers have played every season since Valdosta State began its football program in 1982 and have also played each other in the NCAA playoffs in 1994, 2005, 2007, 2008 and 2010
UNA has won five of the last six meetings in the series and seven of the last 10.
The Lions will continue GSC play next week with a quick turnaround as they face West Georgia on the road on Thursday night, Oct. 18 at 6:30 Central.
Courtesy: UNA Media Relations