#3 West Georgia was given their first loss of the year Saturday at the hands of #18 North Alabama. This 24-23 loss gives West Georgia a 4-1 record on the year and 1-1 record in conference play.
I regret to say that this is the game that I said in the beginning of the year that the Wolves could potentially slip up on. North Alabama and West Georgia were co-conference champions last year. So, I knew this year’s match-up would be a thriller. Unfortunately, my predictions came true.
However, Wolves fans should not be alarmed. In the past two seasons, West Georgia has made the final four only to be eliminated by the eventual National Champions. In both of those years, they had one or more losses in the regular season. This minor setback is nothing Coach Hall the Wolves are not accustomed to.
How it Happened:
North Alabama marched right down the field on the first drive and was able to hit a 47-yard field goal to take the 3-0 lead. West Georgia responded directly after, though.
Sophomore RB Devontae Jackson finished off the 7 play, 75-yard drive with a 29-yard touchdown run to give his team a 7-3 lead after the converted extra point.
The two teams traded punts on their next drives and then North Alabama took back over with 4:20 left in the 1st quarter. 10 plays later, the Lions were lining up for a 43-yard field goal. This time, their kick sailed wide left and it allowed the UWG offense to take over on their own 26 yard line.
The first quarter ended on this drive and it lasted into the second. After a couple of senior RB Lamarcus Franks rushes and a 40-yard reception by sophomore WR KJ Parmer Jr, the Wolves were closing in on the redzone.
The drive was stopped short after a pass to junior WR DeNiko Carter fell incomplete and this forced the Wolves to attempt a 34-yard field goal. Senior kicker Hunter Heck converted on the try and this made the score 10-3 with 12:20 left in the opening half.
The next drive ended with senior CB Laronji Vason intercepting a UNA pass and returning it to the UWG 47 yard line. The offense faced a 3rd down on the first series, but QB Will Gardner hit DeNiko Carter for a gain of 45 yards on the 3rd down play. This moved UWG to the UNA 10 yard line.
Unfortunately, the offense could not punch it in and West Georgia was forced to attempt another field goal. This time, Heck hit a 25-yard try and it gave his Wolves the 13-3 lead with 8:30 left in the 2nd quarter.
The next UNA drive ended just as the last one did. This time, it was senior CB Marcus Sayles intercepting the UNA pass and returning it 17 yards to the UNA 31 yard line.
A couple plays later, the Wolves were on the 13 yard line facing a 3rd and 3 attempt. Mental errors then took over the UWG offense as they committed a false start and then a holding penalty. These flags backed them up to the 28 yard line and put them in a 3rd and 18 hole.
Devontae Jackson rushed for 5 yards on the 3rd down play and then Hunter Heck trotted back out onto the field for his 3rd attempt of the day. This time, it was good from 40 yards out and it gave his team the 16-3 lead heading into halftime.
In the first half, the Wolves offense could not really seem to get anything going outside of their touchdown drive. The defense kept giving them great field position, but their drives just seemed to stall while in the redzone.
The third quarter opened up with a Will Gardner interception that gave the ball to the Lions on their own 30 yard line. They took advantage of this mishap in the UWG offense and mounted a 10 play, 70-yard touchdown drive that made the score 16-10.
The next drive also ended in an interception for West Georgia and the Lions took over on their own 20 yard line. Luckily for UWG fans, the Lions couldn’t get anything going this time and were forced to punt it back to the Wolves.
I hate to sound like a broken record but the next drive also ended in a Will Gardner interception that gave UNA the ball at their own 39 yard line. The defense stepped up once again on the next drive and stopped the Lions on a 4th down try. This gave the ball back to the struggling UWG offense on their own 34 yard line.
The first play of this drive ended up being more yards than all of the last three combined as Lamarcus Franks took the hand-off 66 yards for a West Georgia touchdown. This made the score 23-10 after the extra point with only a minute to play in the third quarter.
UNA then went on the longest drive of the game. They used up 6:44 off the clock as they went on a 19 play, 66-yard scoring drive to bring the score to 23-17. The Lions converted on two fourth downs on this drive, one of which was the scoring play on 4th and goal.
The UNA QB, Jacob Tucker, rushed up the middle for the ‘score’, but the ball was clearly knocked out and recovered by the UWG defense. However, the refs say that Tucker had forward progress on the play and awarded the Lions the touchdown. The picture of the fumble can be seen below, you be the judge.
The UWG offense then ate up 4:50 off the clock on their drive which stalled on the UNA 33 yard line. This forced the Wolves to attempt a 50-yard field goal. The kick was short and the Lions took over down by 6 with 4:34 remaining in the game.
The Lions then had two completions for 32 total yards and had help from a personal foul on West Georgia. These plays put the Lions on the UWG 20 yard line. The defense stepped it up on the next series and forced the Lions into a 4th and 6 situation with 2:54 left in the game.
Unfortunately, the elusive UNA QB scrambled for a gain of 11 yards down to the UWG 5 yard line. A couple plays later, the Lions punched it in and took a 24-23 lead over West Georgia.
West Georgia still had 1:44 left on the clock as they started the drive on their own 25 yard line. The first two plays were completions to junior WR Qa Walker for gains of 27 and 17 yards. A couple of plays later, Gardner hit Walker again for a gain of 16 yards to the UNA 13 yard line.
Will Gardner then rushed for 6 yards and 3 yards on the next two plays. Lamarcus Franks then got the ball and lost a yard, putting the Wolves on the 5 yard line with 1 second remaining in the game. This would put Hunter Heck back on the field to attempt a 22-yard field goal to win the game and remain undefeated.
North Alabama used all three of their timeouts before allowing Heck to kick the ball and this seemed to get in his head as his kick sailed wide left. The UNA players and coaches then charged the field and paraded around as they had just upset the #3 ranked team in the county.
A lot of scrutiny has arisen this week involving this kick. Some people believe that it could have been called good, while the referees had other thoughts. Once again, you can be the judge. Here is a video of the last play of the game (field goal attempt).
This loss dropped the Wolves to #12 in the AFCA Poll, one spot behind North Alabama. They are now #10 in the D2football.com Poll.
Will Gardner finished his day 18-of-29 passing for a season high 286 yards, but he had 3 very costly interceptions. DeNiko Carter led the way in receiving with 5 catches for 104 yards and Qa Walker also had 5 catches for 86 yards.
The Wolves finally had a 100-yard rusher in a game as Lamarcus Franks carried it 16 times for 111 yards and a touchdown. Devontae Jackson had 9 carries for 71 yards and a touchdown.
The defense played good in the game. They held the Lions to only 334 yards while forcing two turnovers and sacking the quarterback 6 times. Three of those sacks came from All-American defensive end Dylan Donahue. This gives him 3 sacks in each of the last 3 games for a total of 10 on the year.
The defense definitely played well enough to win this game Saturday, but the offense just wasn’t there. Three drives were held to field goals instead of touchdowns and two field goals were also missed. Three drives ended in interceptions as well. The UWG offense usually does great starting off drives but has a serious problem finishing them.
Dropped passes, interceptions, missed field goals, a few bad calls, and a general lack of execution cost West Georgia this game on Saturday. The Wolves will now have to win out in GSC play and hope that UNA loses one GSC game. Last year, both teams had one GSC loss and even though UWG won the head-to-head, both were crowned conference champions. So, unless something has changed, that could be a possibility again this year.
West Georgia will now travel to Valdosta State this weekend to take on the 25th ranked Blazers. This game always seems to be an intense match-up. West Georgia has had the Blazers number as of late, winning 3 of the last 4 match-ups. West Georgia also knocked Valdosta out of the playoffs in two of those games. The Wolves are 11-23 all-time vs their rival Valdosta State.
You can listen to the game live by clicking this link, or tuning into Kiss 102.7 on your radios. Thanks for reading my recap of the game, Go Wolves!
*** I do not own any photos that were used in this article. All Photos are credited to their original owners ***