LIVINGSTON, Ala. – West Alabama, ranked 24th nationally, improved to 5-1 in season-opening games under head coach Brett Gilliland by cruising to a 35-18 college football victory over Limestone Saturday at Tiger Stadium.
The game was the season opener for both teams and extended Limestone's losing streak to 13 games. UWA has now won 12 of its last 14 games at Tiger Stadium and is 21-9 at home under Gilliland.
"The biggest thing is we won," Gilliland said. "We did some good things, but we hurt ourselves on offense and didn't make them earn things against our defense by giving up big plays."
West Alabama amassed 451 total yards, while allowing Limestone 430. The Tigers were just 5-of-15 on third down and ended up punting 10 times. UWA was also penalized eight times for 152 yards.
"We had some sloppiness in the second half every once in a while," Gilliland said. "Still, we have only had two days with officials at our practices. We will watch the film and fix what needs fixing."
Tiger punter Zach Gaines averaged 47.6 yards on 10 punts, dropping four inside the Limestone 20. Tre Jackson made all five extra points and the Tigers blocked a pair of extra points to close out a solid special teams effort.
West Alabama led 21-9 at the half, thanks to a pair of scoring passes from Jack McDaniels to Bayley Blanchard and a short touchdown plunge by Derrick Underwood.
McDaniels and Blanchard's first score came on a 10-yard toss that was set up by a 38-yard completion to Deyon Hill, the longest of his career. The two later hooked up on a 52-yard scoring completion.
"That long one was just a little back shoulder throw that Jack likes to make," Blanchard said. "It wasn't an underthrown ball. It is something we work on and a great throw by Jack."
McDaniels completed 21-of-37 passes for 279 yards and three scores. He was not intercepted and was sacked once. Blanchard ended up with five receptions for 81 yards and the two TDs. Tyriq Martin also caught five balls for 47 yards and a touchdown.
Underwood scored from 2-yards out with just over two minutes left in the first half to cinch the halftime score.
The Saints got a 37-yard field goal from Thomas Cook with 3:12 left in the first period before Quay Brown hauled in a 19 yard TD toss from DJ Phillips to cap a 9-play, 90-yard drive. The point after try was blocked by Levi Hammack.
Phillips completed 20-of-42 for 313 yards and the TD. He was sacked twice. Caden Peeler led LC with six receptions for 79 yards, while Malik Brooks ran for 59 yards on eight carries.
Underwood stretched the Tigers lead to 28-9 with a 17-yard scoring run with 11:19 left in the third period. The TD was set up when Christian Saulsberry scooped up an Underwood fumble and rambled 24 yards to the LC 31. A McDaniels to Saulsberry completion pushed the ball to the 17-yard line.
Underwood led all rushers with 69 yards on 14 carries. James Smith chipped in 53 on 11 trips.
Limestone cut the UWA advantage to 28-12 with another field goal from Cook, this one from 30 yards with 1:53 left in the third period. West Alabama stretched its lead to 35-12 when McDaniels and Martin hooked up for a 19-yard scoring pass to cap a 6-play, 55-yard drive.
"I am fortunate to have a lot of favorite targets, an arsenal of playmakers," McDaniels said. "We had some good drives, but we also had some drives that sputtered because of penalties."
Limestone scored an alumni touchdown when Malik Brooks broke loose on a 46-yard run for a score with 1:38 left to play for the final margin. Jon Michael Edwards provided the Tigers' second blocked PAT.
"We need to find more of a killer instinct and learn how to finish games," Gilliland said. "We will find that this week. Still, you never apologize for a win."
Jordan Graddy led the Tigers with nine total tackles, eight of them solo, including one tackle for loss. Tavarius Hutchinson had seven stops and tackle for loss. Shamar Lewis and four tackles as did defensive linemen Camarcus Williams, Undraez Lilly and Charvez Embry. Williams, Edwards and Jordan Jones were all credited with sacks.
The Tigers broke up 11 passes, including two each by Xavier Williamson, Jeremiah Boyd, Trey Elston and Caleb Abrom.
West Alabama hits the road for the first time this season at Tusculum on Saturday. Limestone has its home opener Saturday against West Georgia.