CLEVELAND, Miss. (UWA Athletics) - In a top 25 match-up that featured the top two offenses in the Gulf South Conference, it was the defenses and special teams that were the difference in a 29-26 West Alabama victory over Delta State Saturday at McCool Stadium.
The victory leaves West Alabama 5-1 overall and the only undefeated team in the GSC at 4-0. Delta State dropped to 5-1 and 3-1.
West Alabama built a 29-10 lead after three quarters, only to see Delta State cut the lead to the final margin before Vince Sciorrotta's 27-yard field goal attempt sailed wide right with 1:05 left in the game.
"This was a GSC game on the road versus a great football team," UWA head coach Brett Gilliland said. "They are the No. 9 team in the country for a reason.
"They are a playoff team and I hope we are," Gilliland said. "We made some mistakes tonight that we haven't done all year, and a good team like Delta State will take advantage of that."
Hanging on to a 29-24 lead with 3:53 left, Delta State picked up a safety when a Tiger punt snap sailed over punter Zach Gaines head and out of the end zone. After trading punts, the Statesmen had a chance to send the game to overtime, but Sciorrotta's miss sealed the deal.
Delta State started fast, picking up 89 yards on its first two drives, but the Tiger defense limited the league's top rushing offense to just 36 yards on the next seven drives. The game of runs didn't end there, however.
The Tigers and Statesmen traded interceptions right before the half. Tevin Madison corralled his third of the year off man coverage deep in UWA territory, but DSU returned the favor when Jamoral Graham intercepted Harry Satterwhite to set up a Statesmen TD on a 54-yard pass from Collin Willis to Willis Chambers to make the halftime score 16-7 UWA.
West Alabama took control of the football game in the third quarter, outgaining Delta State 180 to 42 total yards, only to see the Statesmen outgain the Tigers 148-0 in the fourth period.
"That was a long, tough night," UWA offensive tackle Dontavius Blair said. "Our defense really stepped up big and pulled on their big boy underwear. This was a night for big boys."
Colin Douglas opened the scoring with a 25-yard field goal at 10:08 in the second period. Satterwhite and Tra Fletcher hooked up on a 42-yard scoring pass and Taderion Myhand scooped up a DSU fumble and returned it 23 yards for a TD with 2:42 left in the half.
Tyler Rogers popped a 62-yard run for a touchdown with just two minutes gone in the second half to stretch UWA's lead to 22-10, but the two-point attempt failed. A 38-yard Sciorrotta field goal and a 1-yard plunge by Lakenderic Thomas gave the Tigers a 29-10 lead after three periods.
"We had to fight for everything we got tonight," Rogers said. "We tried to pound them all night and I just saw an opening on the long run. We had to fight for all we got."
Willis scored on a 4-yard run and Sciorrotta kicked two more field goals, from 43 and 32 yards, in the fourth quarter.
Satterwhite finished 17-of-34 for 189 yards, a TD and an interception. Willis completed 20-of-37 for 230 yards and a score after replacing starter Breck Ruddick, who was pulled late in the second quarter after completing 16-of-27 for 74 yards.
West Alabama stymied Chris Robinson, the leading rusher in the GSC, to just 16 yards on 12 carries. Ruddick led the Statesmen with 47 yards on seven trips. Kam Myers had nine receptions for 78 yards and Mario Lanier caught seven for 53 yards.
Thomas led UWA rushers with 80 yards on 26 carries, followed by Rogers with 70 yards on five rushes. Donta Armstrong led Tiger receivers with six catches for 36 yards. Fletcher caught four for 64 yards.
Terry Samuel led West Alabama defenders with 11.5 tackles, followed by Devante Davis with 9.5. West Alabama had seven sacks to increase the total over the last three games to 19. The Tiger offensive line did not allow a Satterwhite sack.
"We knew they had a great offense and we got what we expected from them" UWA defensive lineman Ashton Derico said. "We got what we expected from a great team. I am glad to come out of here with a win."
The Tigers had 12 tackles for loss and forced three turnovers. UWA lost one fumble.
West Alabama returns to Tiger Stadium to host West Georgia on Saturday at 4 p.m. Delta State travels to West Florida.