North Alabama's defense sparks Lions to 37-13 win against UNC-Pembroke
PEMBROKE, N.C. – North Alabama picked off Harlon Hill Trophy finalist Luke Charles five times and returned two of them for touchdowns as the Lions downed UNC-Pembroke 37-13 to advance to the quarterfinals of the 2013 NCAA Division II playoffs.
The Lions, 10-2, will travel to Hickory, N.C., to take on Lenoir-Rhyne (11-1), a 27-20 winner against Carson-Newman.
UNA led 10-6 at the half before Pembroke regained the lead early in the third quarter at 13-10. It was all Lions after that as UNA scored 27 unanswered points to take control of the game.
UNC-Pembroke entered the game ranked No. 8 in Division II and ended its season at 9-2. The win was UNA’s ninth straight win overall, third straight win over a nationally ranked team this season and fifth straight road win. It also gave the Lions the 13th 10-win season in school history.
North Alabama gained 376 yards of total offense with 275 rushing and 101 passing. Luke Wingo led the way, completing 11 of 15 passes for 93 yards and one touchdown and rushing for 67 yards. Lamonte Thompson rushed for 98 yards on 14 carries. UNCP entered the game averaging 455 total yards and 342 passing yards per game but was held to 304 total yards and just 214 passing. Charles finished the game 24 of 39 for 206 yards, two touchdowns and five interceptions.
The Lions are now 31-14 all-time in the Division II playoffs and will be playing in the quarterfinals for the 14th time. UNA is 9-4 in its previous quarterfinal matchups.
North Alabama had the first scoring opportunity of the game as the Lions drove 51 yards on 11 plays to the Braves’ 28-yard line on UNA’s opening drive of the game. When the drive stalled, Will Craig was just-wide right on a 45-yard field goal attempt. UNCP responded with a 72-yard, 15-play drive for a touchdown. Luke Charles passed 13 yards to Te’vell Williams for the score but Connor Haskins extra-point attempt was blocked by UNA’s Dominique Duster, leaving the Braves ahead 6-0 with 1:40 remaining in the first quarter.
UNA got on the scoreboard after an exchange of punts. Jacob Tucker led the Lions from their own 41-yard line to the UNCP four but the Lions couldn’t get the ball into the end zone. Craig booted a 21-yard field goal to cut the UNCP lead to 6-3 at 8:43 of the second quarter.
After UNA’s defense forced a three-and-out, the UNA offense marched 85 yards in seven plays for the Lions first touchdown. Lamonte Thompson had 31 yards on just two carries on the drive, including a 17-yard run for the touchdown. Craig’s PAT made it 10-6 with 4:34 left in the second quarter.
The Braves appeared headed for a score just before halftime but UNA’s Lamar Smith stepped in front of a Charles pass for the Lions’ 25th interception of the season.
North Alabama received the opening kickoff of the second half but the UNCP defense forced a three-and-out and the Braves then quickly drove to regain the lead.
L.J. Stronman returned a Michael Schuster punt 49 yards to set the Braves up at the UNA 23. The Lions had allowed just four total yards on punt returns all season prior to the kick. Charles passed to Michael Isbell for the final 12 yards and the touchdown and Haskins PAT made it 13-10 at 12:21 of the third quarter.
North Alabama wasted little time regaining the lead as the Lions covered 75 yards on nine plays for a touchdown. A 41-yard run by Luke Wingo set the Lions up at the UNCP eight and Wingo hit Jason Smith with a five-yard TD pass two plays later for the score. Craig’s PAT made it 17-13 at 7:56 of the third quarter.
A Philbert Martial interception on the Braves’ next possession stopped a UNCP drive at the UNA 29 and the Lions responded with their second consecutive score. Tucker led the Lions on a 10-play, 71-yard drive for the touchdown. Tucker carried five times for 25 yards on the drive and Thompson went the final 16 for the touchdown. Craig missed the extra-point attempt, leaving the score at 23-13 with 1:27 left in the third quarter. It marked the fourth consecutive game that the Lions have missed an extra-point attempt.
After a Michael Schuster punt pinned the Braves back at their 6-yard line, Tavarius Wilson picked off Charles and returned it 29 yards for a touchdown.
Moments later Gabe Poe picked off Charles and took it back 52 yards for the touchdown. Craig’s PAT made it 37-13 with 7:38 left in the game. It was UNA’s 29th interception of the season and the sixth that the Lions returned for a touchdown.