LIVINGSTON, Ala. (UWA Athletics) - West Alabama almost assuredly wrapped up a berth in the 2018 NCAA Division II Football Playoffs with a dominating 45-7 Gulf South Conference victory over West Florida Saturday at Tiger Stadium.
The Tigers will host a watch party for the NCAA Selection Show Sunday at 4 p.m. at the Glen Bridges Auditorium at Wallace Hall on the UWA Campus. Doors open at 3:30 p.m. and all Tiger fans are invited to share the announcement with the team and staff.
West Florida got on the board first on a 29-yard touchdown pass from Nick Belz to Kevin Grant with slightly less than three minutes gone in the game. For the next 57:08 it was all West Alabama, with the Tigers outscoring the Argos 45-0 the rest of the way.
The Tigers rang up 497 yards of total offense, 304 on the ground, and 25 first downs. The UWA defense allowed the Argos just 10 first downs and 273 total yards, 104 rushing to maintain its stranglehold on the GSC lead in rushing defense.
West Alabama did not allow West Florida to convert on any of its 11 third-down plays and held the Argos to 0-for-1 on fourth down. The Tigers were 5-of-12 on third down and dominated the time of possession battle 38:21 to 21:39.
"Team-wise this is probably our best performance of the year," UWA head coach Brett Gilliland said. "I expected us to play well. I saw it all week in practice.
"We felt like we could establish the running game," Gilliland said. "It starts with the linemen opening holes, then the backs being able to get through those holes and make people miss."
Abraham Wallace led West Alabama defenders with seven tackles, followed by Terry Samuel, Tavarius Hutchinson and Undraez Lilly with five each. Wallace also broke up two passes and Nicarius Peterson picked up his fourth interception of the year.
"We started slow, but we banded together and said that they were not going to score again," Tiger defensive end and GSC defensive player of the year candidate Jordan Jones said. "We practiced hard this week and never had any doubt that we could win this game."
Tyler Rogers set the UWA career rushing touchdowns record with the first of two TDs on a 2-yard run with 7:14 to play in the first quarter to tie the score at 7-7. He added another on a 3-yard run with 1:12 left in the first half.
"I didn't really think about it," Rogers said of the record, "but my teammates were reminding me. I just want to lock down on every play as a leader."
Running back Derrick Underwood and receiver Bayley Blanchard both had career days for the Tigers. Underwood rushed for 133 yards on 11 carries (12 yards per carry). Blanchard caught 11 passes for 122 yards and a score.
"The o-line blocked well and the holes opened," Underwood said. "We noticed that the defense was pinching, bringing the linebackers and safeties down, so we knew the bounce would be open. All I had to do was jump outside and get going."
Harry Satterwhite found Blanchard down the left sideline for 40 yards and a touchdown at the 4:01 mark in the first quarter. Jordan Bennett's PAT was no good and UWA led 13-7. Bennett added a 41-yard field goal with 25 seconds left in the first period to give the Tigers a 16-7 lead.
"They were trying to take away the big play, but Harry put it right where it needed to be," Blanchard said. "My teammates rag me, but I have wheels when I need to. Plus, when you rush for 300, it helps open up the pass."
Charles Bester intercepted an Argo pass and was taken down at the UWF 1-yard line as the second quarter was getting underway. Two plays later Satterwhite found Qua Boyd all alone in the south endzone for the Tiger touchdown. Bennett's extra point missed again and UWA led 22-7 very early in the second quarter.
Bennett's 24-yard field goal with 6:44 left in the third quarter extended West Alabama's lead to 32-7.
Satterwhite found Jonnas Spivey on an 8-yard touchdown pass late in the third quarter to stretch the Tiger lead to 38-7. The kick for the extra point was no good.
Satterwhite finished 20-of-29 for 193 yards. His three touchdown passes gives him 63 in his career, just one short of tying Deon Williams, who threw 64 from 2008-10.
Tevin Moore capped an eight-play, 65-yard drive following an interception by Alfred Dickens. Bennett's PAT was good and UWA led 45-7 with 14:52 left in the game. The Tigers ran out the clock from there, running for 46 yards on the game's final drive that ended at the UWF 24.
"Unlike earlier in the season, when we had a chance to separate we did," Gilliland said. "It's nice to be able to run the ball at the end and make first downs when they know all you are going to do is run the ball."
Rogers ran for 77 yards on 15 carries and Moore added 75 more on 11 trips. De'Mon Anderson picked up 28 yards on eight carries down the stretch.
Belz completed 15-of-26 for 144 yards for UWF. Anthony Johnson gained 45 yards on four carries and Tate Lehtio caught five passes for 52 yards.
Gavin Buford led all tacklers with 15 stops for the Argonauts, followed by Martes Wheeler with 14.