FLORENCE, Ala. — The University of North Alabama football program will reach a unique milestone Saturday when the Lions play the final game of their four-year transition to Division I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) against the Hampton Pirates.
Kickoff is set for noon Central at Armstrong Stadium.
Following the season-finale at Hampton, which will also be UNA’s last game in the Big South Conference, the Lions will be eligible to compete for an ASUN Conference championship and NCAA playoff bids beginning in 2022.
But none of that is important right now to UNA Head Football Coach Chris Willis, who wants to see the Lions close out the 2021 season on a positive note
“We would like to go up there and compete and find a way to win this game,” Willis said. “If our guys go up there and play with the same attitude that they have shown all season, we will have a chance to end this season on a positive note. I’m proud of the fight we have had. We just have to eliminate mistakes.”
UNA is 2-8 overall this fall against a schedule that has included four nationally ranked opponents. The Lions led fifth ranked Kennesaw State 24-21 in the final minute last Saturday before the Owls were able to pull out a 28-24 win. It was UNA’s third loss of the season by four points or less.
Hampton has been on a roll in the last few weeks, winning three of its last four games.
The Pirates did not play at all in the 2020 Fall or 2021 Spring seasons, and took a while to get going this season with a 2-4 start.
Quarterback Jett Duffey has thrown for 2,305 yards and 15 touchdowns and is also the team’s secnd leading rusher with 370 yards and eight more TDs.
“Their quarterback is a dual threat who is very athletic and can throw the ball around,” said Willis. “They also have the best receiver that we will see this season in Jadakis Bonds. He is an unbelievable talent and we will have our hands full, just with him. But they also have a solid running back and a really good looking offensive line.”
Overall, the Pirate offense gains 415 yards per game of total offense and averages 28.1 points. The defense has been vulnerable though, allowing 31.2 points and 426.7 yards per game.
Turnovers have plagued UNA. Even though the Lions are a plus-one in turnover margin, UNA’s 19 turnovers have been converted into 15 touchdowns by its opponents.
Blake Dever is expected to start at quarterback for the Lions after throwing for 249 yards and three touchdowns last Saturday. UNA has used four quarterbacks this season as injuries have continued to play a major role with the signal-callers.
UNA’s talented receiving corp continues to impress. Dexter Boykin has caught 47 passes for 679 yards and five touchdowns this season and is now third in career receiving yards (2,036) and fourth in catches (133) at UNA. He also caught a pass in all 35 games that he has played at UNA.
Cortez Hall has 42 catches for 493 yards and four touchdowns this season and is seventh in career receiving yards with 1,754.
Takairee Kennebrew pulled in his eighth TD pass of the season against Kennesaw State and is now just two shy of tying the school single-season record of 10 held by Ed Gant 2008) and Dre Hall (2015).
On the defensive side, cornerback K.J. Smith continues to lead the Big South Conference in interceptions with six.
North Alabama will be looking for its first road win since November 16, 2019 when the Lions won at Gardner-Webb, 34-30 in the season-finale. UNA lost all three of its 2020 road games against FBS opponents Liberty, Southern Mississippi and BYU, and have lost road games this season at Jacksonville State, Nicholls State, North Carolina A&T and Monmouth for a seven-game road losing streak.