Story and photo courtesy of West Alabama Athletics
LIVINGSTON, Ala. – Gary Johnston rushed for 154 yards and West Alabama rolled up 578 yards of total offense on the way to a 41-7 NCAA Division II Football First Round Playoff victory over Miles College Saturday at Tiger Stadium.
The Tigers, who also limited Miles to 30 points below its season average, improved to 9-3 overall and travel to Valdosta State for a second-round matchup against the Blazers on Saturday. This will be UWA's second trip to Valdosta State this season. The Tigers posted a 39-28 victory over VSU on Sept. 22. Miles ended its season at 8-3.
“We executed well all day long and our defense played extremely well after the first drive,” UWA head coach Will Hall said. “That's kind of been our M.O. all year that people have something schemed against us and then Coach (Robert) Henry gets them to the sidelines and makes the adjustments that make us the defense we are.
“Offensively we have hit our stride over the last few weeks and have been extremely efficient,” Hall said. “We are built for 60 minutes. We are not a throw it 65 times a game team. We are 60-minute team that's going to pound you as the game wears on, but we did start fast today and that was good to see.”
Johnston, a junior from Gulf Shores, Ala., picked up his 154 yards and three rushing touchdowns on 22 carries while also completing 10-of-15 passes for 90 yards.
Freshman running back George Michael Rowe of Prattville, Ala., contributed 84 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries for the Tigers. Both of Rowe's scoring runs came in the fourth quarter from 16 and nine yards.
“Another great effort by Gary today. I don't know if he got tacked by the first guy all day,” Hall said. “That's something we talk about with our skills guys. If you are good player you don't get tackled by the first guy.”
West Alabama struck first when Kyle Caldwell found Malik Lofton on a 40-yard touchdown pass to cap a nine-play, 87-yard drive on its first possession. Johnston put UWA up 14-0 on a 31-yard touchdown run on the first play of the second quarter. Johnston's run came on a fourth-down conversion attempt by the Tigers.
“Our offensive line and receivers did a great job all day,” Johnston said. “If we can just make one person miss then it puts us in a good situation as runners.”
Miles threatened for the first time midway through the second period, but the drive stalled at the UWA 15 yard line, forcing a 32-yard field goal try. Ryan Jones blocked Patton Chambers attempt to end the threat. The blocked field goal was the fifth by the Tigers this season.
“Coach Henry just told us to slow down. We were already in the right position, but we were over pursuing and they were hitting cutbacks for a few big plays,” safety Otha Foster said. “Our defense has been good at keeping people from scoring all year.”
West Alabama, who leads the nation in pass defense and came into the game fourth in the land in total defense, limited two Miles quarterbacks to just 8-of-20 passing for 104 yards. The Tigers recorded four tackles for loss and a sack.
“We had some penalties that stoned some drives and we were in the red zone three or four times and didn't get in,” Miles head coach Reginald Ruffin said. “Those are points and the name of the game is the one who has the most points at the end of the game wins.”
West Alabama made it 21-0 with 5:04 to play in the first half when Johnston rambled in from 3 yards out to cap a 10-play, 78-yard drive following the blocked field goal.
The Tigers missed an opportunity to stretch the lead on the final play of the first half, but Ryne Smith's 42-yard field goal attempt was blocked, ending his NCAA-record field goals made streak at 24.
West Alabama marched 77 yards on 13 plays to open the second half. Johnston's third rushing touchdown of the game, this one from the 1-yard line, gave the Tigers a 27-0 lead after the extra point sailed wide left.
Miles avoided the shutout when Denzel Veale scampered in from 5 yards out after a pass interference penalty on fourth down kept the Miles drive alive at the UWA 2 yard line. Veale's score capped an 11-play, 78-yards drive that took 3:38 to play.
“West Alabama did a great job of keeping us out of the end zone. We had our shots,” Ruffin said. “Defensively, we couldn't do anything to stop the quarterback (Johnston). We knew he was a good player and that they had a good core of receivers and a good offensive line.”
Lofton had five receptions for 82 yards to pace UWA receivers. Marcus Brown and Curt Amacker had four catches each. Javae Swindle rushed for 72 yards on just five carries for the Tigers.
Foster finished with seven total tackles, including one for a loss. Jones and Deon Lacey had five each.
Floyd Graves led Golden Bear rushers with 69 yards on 10 carries. Tyrrell Kinder recorded nine tackles to lead Miles.