What's on the line for the University of West Alabama football team when the Tigers hosts rival North Alabama Thursday at Tiger Stadium?
For starters, the first outright Gulf South Conference championship in the history of the program. Not to mention a berth in the NCAA Division II Playoffs. And oh yeah, it's also senior night for 19 players who helped resurrect a football program from the bottom of the college football barrel.
“We set two goals at the start of the season and both of them can be accomplished in this game,” UWA head coach Will Hall said. “Those were to win the GSC and to beat UNA.
“Beating UNA is always a big deal to us. If we were 10-0 this game would mean the world to us and if we were 0-10 it still would,” Hall said. “It's a rivalry because we are trying to become the elite football program in this conference and UNA has been that for so long. We want to be the team everybody thinks about when they think about Gulf South Conference football.”
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Hall not only played at UNA, but also won the 2003 Harlon Hill Trophy as a Lion senior, signifying him as the top player in NCAA Division II that year.
UNA head coach Bobby Wallace retired from coaching at West Alabama after leading the Tiger program from 2006-10, only to return this year to UNA where he won three national titles in 10 years. And just for kicks, throw in that Hall served as Wallace's offensive coordinator at UWA.
“That's not really a factor because there is so much more to it,” Hall said. “We believe UNA looks down on UWA. We think they turn their nose up at us and that adds to it.
“The fact that Coach Wallace is there and we have great relationships with him, that's great,” Hall said. “I think the world of Coach and I hope he does of me, but when we kick the ball off Thursday night I doubt he will be thinking too much about me or me about him.”
Hall would rather focus on his seniors and what they have meant to the UWA program. The 19 players who will be honored in pregame ceremonies have put together 30 wins, winning at least seven in each of the last four years. Prior to that, the last UWA team to win seven games was the 1975 team that finished 10-3 and advanced to the NCAA Division II semi-finals.
West Alabama is 7-3 overall and 4-0 in the Gulf South Conference. North Alabama is 5-4 and 2-2 in the league and will miss the playoffs for the first time in seven years. Kickoff is set for 6:35 p.m. and the game will be televised live by GSC-TV and ESPN3.
“We don't want this to be our last game. We want to go into the playoffs and make a run at it,” UWA senior linebacker Bryant McGowan said. “We want to be the outright GSC champions. That would be the first time for our school and our program, our university.”
“We have to execute and do what the coaches are telling us to do,” UWA center Skeeter Sellers said. “Everyone has to do their jobs, nothing special. We just need 11 guys doing their thing.”