Off to a 2-4 start in its first season with a full FCS schedule, and with five games remaining in this 2019 season, the University of North Alabama football team will be looking to turn things back in a positive direction Saturday when the Lions host the Buccaneers of Charleston Southern at Braly Stadium at 6 p.m.
North Alabama has not had a losing season in football since 2002 and must win four of its five remaining games to avoid breaking that streak.
Both the Lions and Buccaneers (1-5) have faced tough schedules this season, with UNA playing road games against nationally ranked Montana and Jacksonville State and losing two other games in the fourth quarter by a touchdown or less. CSU has lost to ranked opponents in Furman, North Carolina A&T and Kennesaw State, in addition to losses to The Citadel and Southeastern Conference member South Carolina.
In addition, this will be the Buccaneers fifth road game in seven contests this season.
“Charleston Southern is a lot like us,” said UNA head coach Chris Willis. “They are a much better football team than their record indicates. We have both played very tough schedules, and I think theirs has been even tougher than ours. Both of our teams play hard and have both been the victim of a lot of self-inflicted mistakes.”
North Alabama is coming off a bye week and Willis said he has asked his players to commit themselves to the final five weeks of the season.
“I told our guys that I want them to play inspired football the rest of the way,” Willis said. “We want to play hard and we want to have fun. Our goal is to finish strong and end the year on a good note. For our 13 seniors, this will likely be the last five weeks of their football careers, and for the young guys, it’s a chance for them to go out and play hard and show the coaches what they can do.”
UNA has relied on the arm of quarterback Christian Lopez and the leg of kicker Joe Gurley for the majority of its offensive production this season. Lopez has thrown for 1,614 yards and 11 touchdowns and rushed for another score.
Gurley has made nine of his 10 field goal attempts this season, with the only miss coming from 48 yards, and leads the team in scoring with 38 points.
The UNA ground game has been inconsistent and the Lions average just over 100 yards rushing per game.
The North Alabama defense has forced 11 turnovers through six games but the Lions have been forced to defend on more than 80 plays in three different games this season.
Charleston Southern averages 350 yards of total offense per game with 125 rushing and 225 passing. Quarterback Jack Chambers has thrown for 1,115 yards and six touchdowns and running back Ronnie Harris has added 354 yards on the ground.
Although both UNA and Charleston Southern are Big South Conference members, this contest is a non-conference game since the Lions are not eligible to compete for the Big South title until 2022.
The Lions have a perfect 9-0 record in football against schools from the state of South Carolina. UNA is 3-0 all-time against Newberry, 5-0 against North Greenville and 1-0 against Presbyterian. Eight of those games have been at home and three were NCAA Division II Playoff games.
UNA is also 2-1 at home this season with wins over Western Illinois and Presbyterian and a late loss to Alabama A&M.
The Lions were off last week after a tough 40-34 raod loss at Hampton on October 5. UNA head coach Chris Willis is 2-0 when coming off a bye week. The Lions defeated Shorter 41-14 in 2017 after an open date and won at Valdosta State in 2017, 30-24, after a bye.
Overall, UNA has won its last five straight regular season games when coming off a bye. The Lions last loss after an open date was a 24-21 double-overtime loss at Jacksonville State in 2013, 24-21.
Following today’s game with Charleston Southern, the Lions will travel to fourth ranked Kennesaw State on October 26 before hosting their final home game of the season on Nov. 2 against Campbell.
That Campbell game will serve as UNA’s Preview Day and the school will also recognize the members of its seven all-time all-decade teams as part of the celebration of the 150th season of college football.