UNA Opens Bowden Era With 41-9 Road Win

Aug. 29, 2009


MAGNOLIA Ark. -- The Terry Bowden era began with a lot of new names on the University of North Alabama roster, but it was the familiar faces that helped stake the Lions to an early lead and an eventual 41-9 win over the Southern Arkansas Muleriders at Wilkins Stadium.

The game was Bowden’s first as a head coach since October 17, 1998 and was his 112th collegiate victory.

The sixth ranked Lions scored the first time they touched the ball and went on to roll over the Muleriders as returnees Charles McClain, Tim Hicks and Nicholas Walker all had first half TDs for UNA. With a 31-point lead at intermission, the Lions cruised to the 32-point victory.

The win improved UNA’s record against Southern Arkansas to 9-4 and was the Lions’ eighth straight win over the Muleriders in the series. It was also UNA’s 19th consecutive win over schools from the state of Arkansas dating back to 2005.

It didn’t take long for the Lions to find the end zone as McClain returned an SAU punt 52 yards for a touchdown on the first play that UNA touched the ball. McClain fielded the ball in the middle of the field and quickly moved behind a wall formed down the right sideline, going untouched to the end zone. It was McClain’s second career punt return TD. Kenny Spencer added the extra point to make it 7-0 at the 12:33 mark of the first quarter.

UNA’s Michael Johnson recovered a Mulerider fumble on the ensuing kickoff at the SAU 26 yardline but the Lions fumbled the ball back three plays later to end the threat.

The North Alabama offense began to click midway through the first quarter as the Lions went on a 90-yard, nine-play drive for their first offensive score. Harrison Beck was four-for-five passing on the drive for 31 yards and Tim Hicks went the final 54 yards around right end to the end zone. It was Hicks 13th career touchdown and first since 2007 as he missed the 2008 season due to injury. Spencer added the PAT and UNA led 14-0 at 2:36 of the first quarter.

Kenny Spencer missed on a 47-yard field goal attempt that would have extended UNA’s lead. The Muleriders later recovered a UNA fumble at the Lions’ 39 and Noe Cuevas hit a 39-yard field goal for SAU’s first points of the season. The kick came at 7:30 of the second quarter and cut UNA’s lead to 14-3.

UNA answered quickly, driving 65 yards in 11 plays for a score. A 26-yard pass from Beck to Jusmon Rivers moved the ball deep into SAU territory and Marcus Sims rolled into the end zone from three yards out for a touchdown. Spencer’s kick made it 21-3 at 2:34 of the second quarter.

A mishandled kickoff had SAU backed up at its one yardline and UNA’s Nicholas Walker recovered a Mulerider fumble in the end zone for the Lions’ fourth touchdown. Spencer’s PAT made it 28-3 with 2:24 left in the second.

North Alabama’s defense stuffed SAU on the next possession and the Lions got the ball again with 1:27 left in the half. Beck led a 42-yard TD drive for another score. Beck hit Mico McSwain for a 36-yard gain and Sims bulled in from the one for his second touchdown. Spencer’s extra point attempt was blocked but UNA led 34-3 at the half. The blocked kick snapped a UNA streak of 79 consecutive made PATs.

The start of the second half was delayed for almost 15 minutes due to lightning in the area.

Southern Arkansas came out swinging in the second half, stuffing UNA’s offense on its first possession, then driving 65 yards for its first TD of the season. UNA appeared to have stopped the SAU drive but the Lions were offsides on a fourth-and-two play that gave the Muleriders new life. The Lions were also called for a 15-yard personal foul penalty on the drive. Mark Johnson went the final three yards for the touchdown but Cuevas extra-point attempt was blocked by Dominique Duster. The score cut UNA’s lead to 34-9 with 9:51 left in the third period.

UNA scored just over a minute later as Jamaal Edwards went around left end from four yards out for a touchdown. The score was set up by passes of 31 and 40 yards from Beck to Parker. Spencer’s PAT made it 41-9 with 8:18 left in the third quarter.

The Lions left themselves plenty of room for improvement as UNA was penalized 13 times for 124 yards, allowed six quarterback sacks and fumbled the ball seven times, losing two.

UNA finished with 59 yards rushing, 322 yards passing and 381 total yards. SAU was held to just 44 yards rushing and 83 yards passing for 127 total yards. Beck was 18-for-27 for 266 yards for UNA and Cory Eddinger was eight-for-11 for 56 yards. Hicks finished as UNA’s leading rusher with four carries for 78 yards. Mico McSwain was the top receiver with five catches for 65 yards. T.J. Porter had four grabs for 51 yards and Preston Parker had three catches for 67.

The win was UNA’s seventh straight season-opening victory and gives the Lions a 34-23-4 all-time record in its 61 alltime season openers.

North Alabama will host Carson-Newman on Saturday, Sept. 5 at 6 p.m. at Braly Stadium in the Lions’ 2009 home opener and in Bowden’s home debut at UNA.