Valdosta, GA - North Alabama jumped out to a 27-0 lead and never looked back as the Lions defeated Valdosta State 62-27 in Gulf South Conference football action at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium Thursday evening.
After Valdosta State (4-4, 4-3) failed to score after recovering a fumble on the return of the opening kickoff, the Lions (9-0, 6-0) opened the scoring on their first drive as they marched 80 yards in 11 plays. Harrison Beck completed six-of-seven passes for 76 yards, the last coming to Wes Holland from 19 yards out to give UNA a 7-0 lead.
Two drives later, Beck again marched North Alabama down the field as he completed six passes for 55 yards on the drive, the final three coming to Thor Merrow from three yards out to push North Alabama's lead to 13-0 at the end of the first quarter.
The lead continued to grow as Beck rushed for a one-yard touchdown with 11:41 to go in the second quarter. After the ensuing kickoff went into the end zone for a touchback, Michael Johnson picked off the first pass from VSU's Kellen Lewis and returned it 23 yards for a score and a 27-0 UNA lead.
The Blazers answered on their next drive as they marched 51 yards in six plays. Ronnye Nelson carried the majority of the load on the drive as he rushed for 34 yards on four carries, including a 23-yard run that cut the VSU deficit to 27-6.
The Lions missed a field goal on its next drive, but closed out the half with its fifth touchdown when Marcus Sims dove over the top from a yard out with 23 seconds remaining in the half, giving North Alabama a 34-6 halftime lead.
Valdosta State was stopped on the first drive of the second half, but after recovering a Tim Hicks fumble, quickly scored to close to within 34-13. Lewis and Gerald Ford hooked up on three straight passes on the drive, the final coming from 22 yards to give Ford his second touchdown of the season.
North Alabama wasted little time in getting the score back as on the next play from scrimmage, Beck faked a hand-off and hit Mico McSwain for a 69 yard touchdown. The duo again hooked up to drives later, this time on a six yard strike, giving the Lions their largest lead at 48-13.
Valdosta State used some trickery to score early in the fourth quarter as the Blazers faked a field goal. Ford, who lined up wide and was uncovered on the play, took a pass from Russ Callaway and raced 18 yards untouched to close the Blazers to within 48-20.
VSU attempted an on-sides kick on the ensuing kick-off, but the ball traveled just three yards, giving UNA the ball on the VSU 38. Cory Eddinger made the Blazers pay as he connected with Jusmon Rivers for a 38-yard scoring pass on the first play from scrimmage on the drive.
Lewis added a 14-yard pass to Cedric Evans with 4:14 remaining to again close Valdosta State to within 28 points. However, the Blazers once again failed on an on-side kick attempt, leading to the final North Alabama score of the game. The kick traveled the necessary 10 yards and actually hit off of a UNA player. However, Brandon Pickett out-raced a pair of VSU defenders to the ball and scooped it up, returning the ball 40 yards for a touchdown.
Beck completed 25-of-39 passes for 350 yards and four touchdowns in the game while Lewis was 17-of-35 for 157 yards and a pair of scores.
Cedric Jones caught six passes for 61 yards to lead the VSU receiving corps while Ford had five catches and 62 yards as well as two touchdowns.
McSwain caught six passes for 133 yards and two touchdowns while Rivers added five receptions and 118 yards. The Lions rolled to 518 yards of total offense in the game, including 439 through the air, while holding Valdosta State to just 266 total yards.
Larry Dean led all tacklers with 11 on the evening while also breaking up one pass and recording one quarterback hurry. Johnson added a team-high seven tackles to his interception return for a touchdown to lead the Lions defensively.
Valdosta State returns to action next Thursday, October 29 when it travels to Carrollton, Ga. to face the Wolves of West Georgia. Kick-off for the game is slated for 7:00 p.m.