TUSCULUM, Tenn. Jack McDaniels and Jacob Murphree combined to pass for 368 yards and four touchdowns and Tyler Butler blocked two punts as West Alabama defeated Tusculum, 47-14, Saturday at Pioneer Field.
After trading scores to open the game, West Alabama went on a 40-point run to put the game away at 47-7 with just over eight minutes left. Tusculum tacked on a touchdown in the last minute, driving 85-yards in 16 plays against Tiger reserves for the final margin.
West Alabama improved to 2-0 with its second consecutive win over a South Atlantic Conference team. Tusculum is 0-2, with both losses at the hands of Gulf South Conference programs.
The Tigers rang up 465 yards of total offense while limiting the Pioneers to just 245, only 88 rushing.
"We had a lot of three and outs after a slow start," safety Tavarius Hutchinson said. "Coach Gilliland told us at the half that we weren't playing West Alabama football."
West Alabama took a 7-0 lead at the 12:45 mark in the first quarter on a 7-yard run by Derrick Underwood. The score was set up when Butler blocked a Pioneer punt and Trevonte Carter returned it two yards to the 7-yard line. Butler blocked a second punt in the second half.
The scoring play gave West Alabama a 7-0 lead with just seven yards total offense after going three-and-out on its first possession.
"Coach (Lamont) Seward schemed it up and my teammates did their jobs," Butler said. "On that second one my eyes got big because I was thinking scoop and score, but I hit the left part of the ball instead of the middle."
Tusculum evened the score at 7-7 on a 6-yard scoring pass from Bryce Moore to Chavis Williams with 8:08 left in the first period, capping an 11-play, 52-yard drive that was extended by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty following a third-down stop by UWA.
McDaniels and Christian Saulsberry handed the Tigers a 14-7 lead on a 29-yard scoring pass with 4:58 left in the first period. The scoring play capped a seven-play, 76-yard drive to end first-period scoring.
The first quarter lasted 55 minutes, with West Alabama being penalized nine times for 96 yards and Tusculum four times for 49 yards. The Tigers were charged with four unsportsmanlike conduct infractions in the quarter, but after a halftime tongue lashing from head coach Brett Gilliland the Tigers regained their composure and committed just three penalties in the final three quarters.
"The first quarter was completely unacceptable. We were very undisciplined," Gilliland said. "We responded well though and finished the game strong.
"We did improve, but it's GSC time now and we have to be better," Gilliland said. "We played well up front on both sides of the ball and the secondary cleaned up some."
Murphree extended UWA's lead to 21-7 on a 1-yard TD run to top off a seven-play, 80-yard drive early in the second quarter. The score was set up by a 60-yard completion from Murphree to Saulsberry.
UWA led 28-7 at the half thanks to a 6-yard TD completion from McDaniels to Saulsberry with 16 seconds left in the second quarter, capping a nine-play, 89-yard drive.
Dorsett Johnson and Jordan Jones stretched the lead to 30-7 by tackling a Pioneer runner in the end zone on the first play of the second half after the TC kickoff return man kneeled down on the 1-yard line. Jackson added a 29-yard field goal moments later to make it 33-7.
McDaniels threw his third TD pass, this one for 32 yards to Tyriq Martin with 8:32 left in the third period to stretch West Alabama's advantage to 40-7.
With McDaniels night over, Murphree picked up the slack, hitting Jerrick Orr on a 58-yard scoring pass to stretch West Alabama's lead to 47-7 with 8:04 left in the game.
McDaniels completed 13-of-24 for 216 yards and three scores. He was intercepted twice. Murphree was 8-for-10 for 152 yards and a TD. Two TC quarterbacks combined to complete 19-of-39 for 157 yards.
"We have a great quarterback room with Jacob and Gavin and the young guys as well," McDaniels said. "We started undisciplined, but we finished well. It is great to have guys around you who can make plays."
Martin led West Alabama receivers with six catches for 65 yards. Saulsberry caught four for 121 despite not playing in the second half. Qua Boyd caught four passes for 28 yards. Demetrius Battle was UWA's leading rusher with 39 yards on seven carries, all in the fourth quarter.
"We got the drops out of the way early and after that we got on a roll," Saulsberry said. "When we do the little things correctly nobody can stop us but ourselves."
Ajay Belanger led Pioneer receivers with six catches for 56 yards. Jordan Shippy and Moore rushed for 26 yards each.
Jordan Graddy collected eight tackles to lead West Alabama, while Jones, Michael Anderson and Jeremiah Boyd all chipped in six. The Tiger defensive front had a field day, with eight tackles or loss and three sacks.
"We had a mindset that we were going to shut them down and once we calmed down things started going our way," Jones said. "We need to continue to prepare every day like it's the last day."
West Alabama begins GSC play Saturday at top-ranked Valdosta State. The game is set for 6 p.m. CDT.