dexter Boykin Catch at Monmouth

Mason Matthews


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FLORENCE, Ala. — With just two games remaining in the University of North Alabama’s final season as a transitional member of Division I’s Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), the Lions will look to finish strong, starting with Saturday’s game against fifth ranked Kennesaw State at Braly Stadium.

Kickoff is set for 2 p.m., with the program honoring the 14 senior members of the squad in a pre-game ceremony.
The Lions are certainly no strangers to facing nationally ranked teams.

Kennesaw State will be the fourth ranked opponent on UNA’s 2021 schedule, joining UNA’s first three opponents of the season in Southeastern Louisiana, Chattanooga and Jacksonville State.

North Alabama has played 114 games against nationally ranked opponents since 1992, with 60 of those coming against teams in the Top 10.The  Lions are 61-52-1 in those 114  meetings with ranked opponents, but are 0-10 against nationally ranked FCS teams.

UNA, 2-7 overall, will be hosting the 8-1 Owls for the first time at Braly Stadium.

The only previous meeting between the two schools in football was a 41-17 win by KSU at Kennesaw, Ga., in 2019.

The Lions are coming off a hard fought 45-33 loss at Monmouth, who is currently tied for first place in the Big South Conference at 5-0.

“We had a slow start last week and you can sum it up by saying we gave up 21 points off of turnovers,” said UNA Head Football Coach Chris Willis. “We have improved as a team as the season has gone along, but we haven’t quite been able to get away from the turnover bug. We will definitely have to eliminate turnovers this weekend if we want to be successful.”

Overall, UNA has lost 17 turnovers this season and 14 of those have resulted in opponent’s touchdowns.

Kennesaw State has another strong squad built around the ground game, but quarterback Xavier Shepherd has also made the Owls  more of a passing threat this season. Shepherd is the team’s leading rusher with 668 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground. He has also thrown for 1,034 yards and another 12 TDs.

While winning their last seven straight, following their only loss of the season at Georgia Tech, Kennesaw State has only had one close call, a 34-30 win against Gardner-Webb two weeks ago.

KSU is averaging 30 points and 384 yards per game offensively, with 258 of that coming on the ground. Defensively, the Owls are only allowing 17.7 points per game.

“Facing an option team isn’t easy,” said Willis. “It’s something that you don’t face a lot, and we haven’t played an option team since 2019. It’s hard to simulate the speed, and they are very good at what they do. Their defense will also be one of the best defenses that we will have faced this year, and probably the best linebacker corp.

“We have to work this week to get things going on our end and get a few things fixed. We want to see if we can finish this season strong,” Willis said.

UNA redshirt junior receiver Dexter Boykin had one of the top games in his career last Saturday, with 10 catches for 172 yards and a touchdown against Monmouth. Both the number of catches and receiving yards were both personal bests for Boykin, who had a couple of remarkable receptions during the game.

Boykin now ranks third in UNA history for career receiving yards with 1,966, and he is eighth in career receptions with 125.

Senior cornerback K.J. Smith added another interecption last week at Monmouth and increased his Big South Conference leading total to six for the season. He now has 12 in his career at UNA.

Senior punter Joe Gurley continues to contend for the Big South Conference punting title with a strong 44.7 average on 40 punts this season. Last Saturday at Monmouth, he set a new UNA record with his 31st career punt of more than 50 yards, surpassing Tony Faggioni’s previous mark of 30.

North Alabama will close its 2021 season on November 20 against Hampton on the road.


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