FLORENCE — Saturday’s 24-21 loss to Valdosta State may have stopped North Alabama’s four-game winning streak, but coach Bobby Wallace said in no way are the Lions out of contention for the Gulf South Conference title or a postseason berth.
The loss dropped UNA (5-2, 2-1 GSC) into a tie for second place in the GSC standings with Valdosta State (5-2, 2-1), but the Blazers now have the tie-breaker advantage over the Lions. UNA could still win at least a share of the conference title if it wins its final two GSC games.
“You hate to lose, but it doesn’t do a thing to our chances to be conference champion or make the playoffs,” Wallace said. “It does put us in a position where we can’t lose again, but it doesn’t knock us out.”
West Alabama is alone in first place in the GSC with a 2-0 conference record. UNA would have to beat West Georgia on Thursday and West Alabama in the regular-season finale to claim at least a share of the title.
The Lions were clearly hurting after Saturday’s loss. However, freshman linebacker Brian Barnett said UNA will bounce back.
“This is nothing that we can’t overcome,” Barnett said. “This loss does not destroy our season. We’re going to come back strong this week against West Georgia and play with a chip on our shoulder.”
Despite the loss, there were some encouraging signs. The offense which was stagnant for almost three quarters scored three touchdowns in the final 22 minutes to give the Lions a chance to pull out a victory.
Freshman quarterback Luke Wingo had the best passing game this season, throwing for 227 yards and one touchdown with no interceptions.
His play has resulted in earning a start this week at West Georgia, Wallace said Sunday.
Chris Alexander played only two series against Valdosta State before Wingo took over.
“We’re going to reverse their roles this week,” Wallace said. “Luke will start and Chris will be ready to play. We plan on playing Chris in the third series the way we’ve been playing Luke.
“Chris didn’t do anything wrong, Luke just had a hot had and it also goes back to practice last week. It’s a decision I had to make and it’s not an easy one because they both are great kids and we have confidence in both. But that’s the way we’ll go this week.”
Tailback Lamonte Thompson had a strong second half against Valdosta State to finish with 119 yards.
Injuries, though, continue to plague the Lions. Starting linebacker Brion James suffered a knee sprain and missed the second half and his backup, Donelli Johnson, also was injured. Wallace said both players might play Thursday.
“We’re just running out of bodies. It’s just that simple,” Wallace said. “We’re not trying to use it as an excuse, but it’s the facts. That’s one reason we couldn’t stop them in the end because none of our Will linebackers that get most of the work in practice were on the field.”
This week presents a different type of challenge as UNA plays its first Thursday game of the season.
“It is a short week, but we can’t gripe about that because West Georgia played at Delta State and had a long bus ride home,” Wallace said. “The biggest thing is injuries. If we don’t have many injuries we should be OK and ready to play Thursday.”
Jeff McIntyre can be reached at 256-740-5737 or jeff.mcintyre@TimesDaily.com.