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Local Sports Stories Archives for 2021-09

UNA travels to face 11TH Ranked Jacksonville State Saturday

FLORENCE, Ala. -- The University of North Alabama will face its fourth consecutive nationally ranked opponent and third straight to open the 2021 season when the Lions travel to Jacksonville, Ala., Saturday to face their oldest rival in the Jacksonville State Gamecocks.


The UNA-JSU rivalry dates back to the first football game in UNA’s modern history in 1949 and has been revived in recent years with the Lions’ move to Division I and the Football Championship Subdivision.


Saturday, UNA will face the 11th ranked Gamecocks at Burgess-Snow Field at JSU Stadium with kickoff set for 6 p.m.


North Alabama closed its 2020 season with a road game at eighth ranked FBS opponent BYU. The Lions then opened the 2021 season with home games against 17th ranked Southeastern Louisiana and 24th ranked Chattanooga. Saturday’s game will mark the first time in school history that any UNA team has faced three straight nationally ranked teams in the regular season.


“Jacksonville State is a very good football team that has played two FBS teams to open the season and just beat a Power 5 FBS team in Florida State on the road last weekend,” said UNA Head Football Coach Chris Willis. “Their defense is very strong and they’ve got things going in the right direction.


“They are a solid team, but we have to worry about us and making the adjustments that will help us be successful,” Willis added. “We have played two totally different games so far, and even played different in each half of each game. The first we moved the ball and put up points and then couldn’t move the ball offensively at all last week. We couldn’t get off the field on defense in the second half in the opener and then held Chattanooga to just three points in the second half last week. So we like the pieces to everything are there, we just have to find a way to put them all together.”


Willis said despite the 0-2 start and facing another ranked opponent, his team is looking forward to the challenge.


“There is no quit in this team,” he said. “We have been having good practices and positive meetings. Everyone is frustrated because we are not used to being in this position but we have nine games left to get things fixed and headed in the right direction.”


In last weekend’s 20-0 loss to Chattanooga, the Lions were held scoreless for the first time in their last 113 games and just the second time in their last 220 games. UNA was also held under 100 yards of total offense for the first time since 1985.


JSU, now 1-1 overall, used a 59-yard Hail Mary pass on the final play of the game to defeat Florida State 20-17.


In last year’s meeting, Jacksonville State overcame a 17-14 deficit late in the third quarter to down North Alabama 24-17 in the two school’s first meeting at Braly Stadium since 1992.


A touchdown pass from Rett Files to Jakobi Byrd with 1:57 left in the third quarter put UNA on top 17-14 but the Gamecocks scored before the end of the quarter on a one-yard Zerrick Cooper run to regain the lead at 21-17 with just four seconds left in the third.


The only score in the fourth quarter was a 36-yard field goal by Alen Karajic to extend the lead to 24-17.


UNA had one last chance but a Hail-Mary pass from Dever was picked off by JSU’s Nicario Harper at the one-yard line as time expired.


The Gamecocks lead the all-time series 27-18-3 and are 12-1-1 in the last 14 meetings. UNA held a 17-15-2 advantage after a third straight win over JSU in 1985.


UNA’s last win in the series came on September 13, 2003, with Mark Hudspeth as head coach. The Lions won that game 28-16 in Jacksonville and went on to a 13-1 season that ended with a loss in the semifinals of the Division II playoffs. JSU went on to win the Ohio Valley Conference Championship that season.



CHARLOTTE, N.C. - For the second time this season and the fifth time in his career, University of North Alabama senior punter Joe Gurley of Killen, Ala., has been named the Big South Conference Special Teams Player of the Week by the league office.


In the Lions’ September 11 game against 24th ranked Chattanooga, Gurley punted eight times and averaged 45.1 yards. He had one boot downed on the Mocs four-yard line and another on the 11. He also had punts of 55 and 57 yards in the game.


UTC attempted to retun four punts and managed just eight total yards.


Gurley was also honored as Big South Special Teams Player of the Week following the Lions’ season-opener against Southeastern Louisiana, and received three awards in 2019.


For the season, Gurley is averaging 44.9 yards on 12 total punts. 


Gurley’s 44.9-yard average would rank ninth nationally in the FCS but the Lions are not eligible for rankings until after they complete their four-year Division I transition.


Alabama Coaching Staff Names Six Players of the Week following Win over Mercer

Alabama Coaching Staff Names Six Players of the Week following Win over Mercer

Two on offense, three on defense and one on special teams earned the recognition


TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – The Alabama coaching staff selected six players of the week following a 48-14 win over Mercer in the Crimson Tide’s home opener at Bryant-Denny Stadium last Saturday. JoJo Earle and Evan Neal on offense; Christian Harris, Kool-Aid McKinstry and Drew Sanders on defense; and Jase McClellan on special teams all earned the honors for their efforts against the Bears.



JoJo Earle

  • Led all Alabama wideouts with seven receptions and 85 yards on the day
  • Converted three first downs while averaging 12.1 yards per catch
  • Added three punt returns for a combined 45 yards with a long return of 29


Evan Neal

  • Turned in the highest grade of all Crimson Tide offensive linemen
  • Perfect on all assignments and totaled four knockdown blocks
  • Did not allow a sack, quarterback hit or pressure while helping UA rack up 424 yards of total offense 



Christian Harris

  • Played a key role for the UA defense that allowed just 68 yards rushing and 236 yards overall
  • Recorded a team-high eight tackles against the Bears, including one for a loss (-1 yard)
  • Totaled four solo stops to lead all Tide defenders


Kool-Aid McKinstry

  • Stepped in and excelled in his start at corner
  • Totaled six tackles to tie for second on the team
  • Picked off his first pass of the season and added one pass breakup


Drew Sanders

  • Made his first career start in the crimson and white
  • Broke up a pair of passes off the edge, part of the Tide’s five pass breakups on the day
  • Added two tackles to his stat line



Jase McClellan

  • Picked up a blocked punt and returned the ball 33 yards for a Crimson Tide touchdown
  • The punt block and score was UA’s first since 2019
  • Added a pair of tackles on special teams with one on punt and another on kickoff coverage


Get all the latest information on the team by following @AlabamaFTBL on Twitter and Facebook and AlabamaFBL on Instagram. General athletic news can also be found at UA_Athletics on Twitter and Instagram and AlabamaAthletics on Facebook.


– UA –


Jacksonville State shocked the college football world late Saturday



Gamecocks shock Florida State on game's last play

9/12/2021 | Football | Box Score

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Hail Mary.

Walk-off Touchdown.

The Tallahassee Miracle.

Call it what you wish. Jacksonville State shocked the college football world late Saturday when senior quarterback Zerrick Cooper, down to the final play against Florida State, connected with Damond Philyaw-Johnson for a miraculous 59-yard touchdown with all zeroes on the clock to lift the Gamecocks to a stunning 20-17 victory at Doak Campbell Stadium.

"You've got to play at a certain level execution-wise in these type games and we did that night," said Jacksonville State head coach John Grass as players and coaches celebrated around him. "We missed a chance to score on the same play before. Damond was open and we missed him and we decided to do it again.

"He beat his man, Zerrick made a perfect throw, he made a great cut down there and Ahmad (Edwards) made a big block and got him in the end zone."

Philyaw-Johnson was mobbed by his teammates in the corner of the end zone as the stunned pro-FSU crowd of 60,198 looked on. The celebration continued on Bobby Bowden Field well after midnight as the Marching Southerners and JSU fans who made the trip cheered their Gamecocks.

It took less than 20 minutes against Florida State for Cooper to etch his name in Jacksonville State's record book as the school's all-time leading passer.

For the second time in 11 months, the Gamecocks took the fight to the Seminoles of the Atlantic Coast Conference and led early. This time, however, Jacksonville State fought back and pulled out in its second straight game against an FBS opponent.

Cooper's 12-yard pass to Quan Charleston at the 8:32 mark in the second quarter moved the Jonesboro, Ga., native past Eli Jenkins (7,652 yards from 2013-16) atop the career passing list.

Cooper - who threw for 232 yards in October 2020 in a game that was added after COVID-related protocols forced all of FSU's originally scheduled non-conference games to be canceled - finished with 242 against the Seminoles (0-2) on Saturday and now stands at 7,819 in his career.

The Gamecocks struck first with a time-consuming 15-play scoring march that Josh Samuel finished off with a two-yard run with 11:08 to go in the second quarter. Alen Karajic's extra point gave Jacksonville a 7-0 lead.

JSU forced a Florida State punt on the ensuing series and quickly moved from its 33 to the Seminoles' 17. But Pat Jackson fumbled after being tackled in the backfield and Sidney Williams scooped up the loose ball and returned it 27 yards to near midfield.

Florida State tied it at 7-7 when Jashaun Corbin ran 12 yards to the end zone at the 5:01 mark and Ryan Fitzgerald added the PAT.

A 31-yard punt return by Keyshawn Helton set up Florida State's go-ahead touchdown. Corbin ran 27 yards deep into Jacksonville State territory and McKenzie Milton, the UCF transfer who drew the start at quarterback, finished off the 'Noles' scoring drive with a 2-yard toss to Wyatt Rector with nine seconds left before halftime.

Fitzgerald added a 53-yard field goal in the third quarter. 

Cooper's 23-yard touchdown pass to Edwards with 4:45 left in the fourth quarter pulled Jacksonville State to within 17-14 and made him the JSU career leader in TD passes with 62, surpassing Ed Lett.

His 63rd career touchdown pass turned out to be one of, if not the, most memorable in Jacksonville State's storied football history.

Jacksonville State hosts ASUN Conference rival North Alabama (0-2) next Saturday at Burgess-Snow Field in a 6 p.m. kickoff. The Gamecocks lead the all-time series 26-18-3 and have won the last three meetings.

Jacksonville State Postgame Notes - Florida State
September 11, 2021 Doak Campbell Stadium Tallahassee, Fla.

  • JSU Captains: Junior defensive end DJ Coleman and redshirt sophomore wide receiver Ahmad Edwards
  • JSU won the toss and elected to defer
  • The Gamecocks even the all-time series with Florida State at 2-2. JSU's first win in the series came in 1947 by a score of 7-0
  • JSU improves to 69-22 overall under eighth-year head coach John Grass
  • JSU defeats an FBS school for the second straight season after a 19-10 win at Florida International in October 2020. It marks JSU's seventh FBS win since moving to Division I in 1995, and the first time with wins in back-to-back seasons since 2000 (Louisiana-Lafayette) and 2001 (Arkansas State)
  • Edwards, a captain, along with redshirt junior Christian Murray and freshman cornerback Yessman Green, made their first career starts
  • Redshirt senior Zerrick Cooper became JSU's all-time passing leader with a 12-yard completion to Quan Charleston with 8:32 left in the second quarter, surpassing Eli Jenkins' (2013-16) previous mark of 7,652 yards
  • Cooper threw two touchdowns, including the game-winning 59-yard Hail Mary, to set a new JSU school record with 63 career passing touchdowns. He finished 17-of-38 for 242 yards through the air
  • Redshirt junior wide receiver Daymond Philyaw-Johnson hauled in his only pass of the night with the 59-yard scoring reception as time expired. It was just his second catch of the year. He had one reception for one yard against UAB in the opener.
  • Freshman cornerback Jamari Jemison grabbed his first career interception in the third quarter, taking an 11-yard return to the FSU 32. 
  • Redshirt-junior Stevonte Tullis led JSU's defense with seven tackles
  • This was Florida State's first loss to a non-FBS program since getting beat by William & Mary in 1959

Buckhorn gets shut out in stinging first loss of the seasonĀ 

Buckhorn gets shut out in stinging first loss of the season 


The Cullman Bearcats kicked in the doors of Tommy R. Ledbetter Stadium and blew right through the Buckhorn Bucks in a lopsided 35-0 win on Friday night. 

After opening up the season with three consecutive wins, including a regional victory over Hazel Green last week, the Bucks ran into a brick wall of a defensive front that wouldn’t let any rushers through. Quarterback C.J. Hatcher tried to make magic on a few keepers, but he was constantly swarmed by a gang of white jerseys. 

It was like the inside of a hornets’ nest. 

On the defensive side of the ball, the Bucks got overpowered by Cullman’s offensive front, which allowed for several power running plays up the gut. But the real damage was done when the Bearcats got on the outside, and the Bucks defense struggled to seal the edge. 

As the saying goes, speed kills. 

By the end of the first half, the Bucks trailed 14-0 after a pair of rushing touchdowns from the Bearcats. And then the floodgates opened in the second half. 

Cullman started the third quarter with a strong 15-yard rush on the outside before quarterback Ryan Skinner sailed a touchdown throw right over the defense off a play-action pass. Buckhorn had some missed opportunities with some dropped passes, and Hatcher also threw a couple of interceptions in an effort to make something happen. 

But the Bucks never stopped fighting and even made it to Cullman’s 19-yard line in the fourth quarter on a potential touchdown drive that came up short. As coach Matt Patterson put it after the game, sometimes you just run into a really good football team.  

“That’s a really good football team we played tonight, and they took it to us—no if, ands or buts about it,” Patterson told 97.7 The Zone. “We’ve got to rebound and learn and come back next week. We’ve got to go to Decatur. We’ve got to get over this quick because we’ve got another big game next week on the road with a good Decatur football team regardless of what their record is. They’re a good football team, and if we’re not ready to play, it can be a tough week again.”

The Bucks head on the road to Decatur in Week 5 to face a Red Raiders team that has yet to win a game this season. Meanwhile, Cullman will go to Hazel Green after snapping a two-game losing streak. 

JSU Hall of Fame Coach, Former AD Jim Fuller Passes Away

JSU Hall of Fame Coach, Former AD Jim Fuller Passes Away

9/1/2021 | Football 

Jim Fuller, a former Hall of Fame football coach and athletics director at Jacksonville State, passed away on Wednesday at the age of 76.

Fuller served as the Gamecocks' head football coach from 1977-83 after serving as an assistant coach at JSU from 1970-73 and again from 1975-76.

He is the fifth-winningest coach in JSU football history, compiling a 54-25 mark in his seven-year career. His 1977 team posted an 11-3 record, won the Gulf South Conference championship, claimed the Grantland Rice Bowl with a 31-7 televised victory over North Dakota State, and played for the NCAA Division II National Championship, finishing runner-up to Lehigh in the Pioneer Bowl.

"Coach Fuller knew what being a JSU Gamecock was all about. So when he came back, he hit the ground ready to take over as Athletic Director," said Dr. William A. Meehan, former JSU President who hired Fuller as AD in 2003. "Jim had a solid base of support in the JSU community having been head football coach. So many alumni, fans, and former players were there to cheer him on as he led our teams into a new conference. Jim was a great asset because he knew what being Division I was all about.

"I always enjoyed my relationship with Jim both as my AD and as my friend. There was rarely a day that we did not talk. He was an asset for JSU and did a great job! I feel, with his passing, we have lost a piece of JSU." 

Fuller coached Gamecock football teams to four GSC championships and made five appearances in the NCAA Division II playoffs. Prior to his stint as head coach with the Gamecocks, he took over as offensive coordinator in 1975 under Clarkie Mayfield before being elevated to the head coaching spot in 1977. 

He was named the Gulf South Conference Coach of the Year three times and was named the Regional Coach of the Year twice.

"We are saddened to learn of the passing of Coach Jim Fuller," JSU Athletics Director Greg Seitz said. "He was instrumental in several conference championships during his time at Jacksonville State, both as a coach and as an administrator. He was a true Gamecock that was loved by so many in our community, alumni and fan base. He will be sorely missed."

Fuller left JSU after the 1983 season to return to his alma mater, Alabama, where he coached until retirement from the sidelines in 2003. He was on the staff of the '92 Crimson Tide Team that claimed the national crown.

He was inducted into the JSU Athletics Hall of Fame in 1998, but his career with the Gamecocks wasn't done. He was hired to lead the Gamecocks' 16 varsity sports as Athletics Director in 2003 and held that position until his retirement in 2008. 

He took over as the Gamecocks entered the Ohio Valley Conference and led the Gamecocks to 31 Ohio Valley Conference titles and two OVC Women's All-Sports Trophies during his five-year tenure as the JSU Athletics Director. The 31 titles were the most by a JSU athletics department in a five-year span to that point and was 14 more than the closest OVC school during that same time frame.

But more impressive was the success in the classroom, where over 450 student-athletes were named to the OVC Commissioner's Honor Roll and more than 600 student-athletes maintained a 3.0 grade point average during his leadership.

Fuller, a native of Birmingham, was an offensive tackle for head coach Bear Bryant at Alabama from 1964-66, leading the Crimson Tide to a National Championship in 1964.




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