The University of West Florida put together one of its best all-around performances in a 30-7 win over North Alabama. Hear from players and check out the scene after the win. Eric J. Wallace / email@example.com
West Florida's Johnathan Coleman (41) busts through the North Alabama offensive line and tackles Damon Cox (24) for a loss at Blue Wahoos Stadium on Saturday, November 4, 2017.(Photo: Jody Link/online@PNJ.com)
One year ago, the University of West Florida experienced its first true humbling in Division II football.
Facing then No. 3 North Alabama on its home field, the Argos never stood a chance, allowing a 63-yard touchdown on the first play of the game and falling behind 20-0 within seven minutes.
The Lions pummeled UWF that afternoon and led 48-3 at halftime. Only by their own good grace was the deficit not worse as UNA took its foot off the gas with a 40-point lead in the second half.
In 2017, that story couldn’t have been any different.
The UWF defense was a dominant force on Saturday night, shutting out the UNA offense and limiting the Lions to 129 yards of total offense in UWF’s dominating 30-7 win.FacebookTwitterGoogle+LinkedInPHOTOS: UWF football takes on North Alabama in home finale> Fullscreen
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It was a far cry from the 528 yards of total offense the Lions accrued in 2016, and though UNA hardly resembles the team that fell one game short of a national championship last season, there’s no denying the magnitude of UWF’s performance on Saturday.
“That was by far our best defensive performance (in school history),” UWF head coach Pete Shinnick said. “They pitched a shutout ... Josh Smiley out, Josh Marshall out. I really proud how those guys played. They tried to take advantage of some things and I just love how our DBs played smart.”
Last season’s loss to UNA was the first half of a dismal two-game finale in which the Argos were outscored 120-3 by the Lions and West Georgia.
Though they have been in the works already, changes were made in the offseason.
Darian Dulin was brought in as defensive coordinator and though he didn’t change the scheme, the Argos did hope Dulin could bring a new energy to the defensive unit.
In many ways, that change has worked.
The UWF defense is nearly two touchdowns improved from last season, allowing opponents to record significantly fewer points per game (35.45 to 22.56) and yards per game (401.1 to 345.9).
That progress showed in its brightest way against UNA as the Argos piled up seven sacks and limited the Lions to just 23 minutes of possession.
It was “a complete game” performance in the eyes of Shinnick.
“It all ties into how much our defense has improved,” said defensive lineman John Williamson. “When you look at that score, from allowing 48 points in the first half to (offense) not scoring at all, I put that on the coaches and our growth as a team. It’s tremendous.”
Williamson was perhaps the most dominant player on the Argo defense Saturday night.
The junior from Stockton, Alabama doubled his sack total in one night, setting up camp in the Lion backfield and sacking the quarterback 3.5 times.
“Coach (Alex) Krutsch and Coach (Darian) Dulin, I credit them tremendously,” Williamson said. “They put me in those positions. Anybody else could’ve done it, I was just that guy tonight to be in the place.”
The progress will be put to the test one final time next Saturday at West Georgia, a team that beat the Argos far worse in 2016.
They won’t have the support of Blue Wahoos Stadium behind them that time, but with a similar level of performance, the Argos could find themselves sneaking into postseason contention.
“We’re not done yet,” Williamson said. “We’re giving it every chance that we’re going to get to the playoffs. It’s huge for us to even have that shot to get to the playoffs in our second year.”