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UWA celebrates homecoming with 49-7 Victory

Gary Johnston ran for three touchdowns and Kyle Caldwell threw for 192 yards and another score as West Alabama tightened its stranglehold on the top of the Gulf South Conference standings with a 49-7 homecoming victory over Shorter University Saturday at Tiger Stadium.

The win improves UWA to 6-2 overall, 3-0 in the GSC. The Tigers continue in GSC play next week by traveling to Delta State. Shorter dipped to 4-4, 0-2 in the league. The Hawks are host to Valdosta State Thursday in the GSC-TV game of the week.

“We executed pretty well with the exception of a couple early third downs,” UWA head coach Will Hall said. “Both quarterbacks played well and we got some big plays from special teams. Hopefully, we will keep getting better as the year goes on.

“This is was a good football team we beat. We only had the ball three times in the first half and we scored on one of those,” Hall said. “We came out in the second half and got a good kickoff return, then had a big punt return. We dominated the kicking game like we usually do and the defense was as good as always.”

Shorter threatened to score on its first two possessions, but Mario Gainer blocked a Hawk field goal try and the Tigers foiled a fake field goal attempt to keep Shorter out of the end zone.

“We had our backs to the wall and just decided we had to make a play,” Gainer said. “We had a little trouble early on adjusting to the speed, but we were able to come around as the game went on.”

“Defensively we played well all day long. It was a huge hold for us early in the game when we blocked the field goal,” Hall said. “They didn’t really move the ball all night. We helped them with some penalties and that is something we have to get fixed.”

After a scoreless first quarter, UWA struck first when Ridge Turner recovered a Kirk Wilson fumble and lateraled to Otha Foster who scampered 41 yards for a touchdown.

The Tigers second score was a bit more conventional with Kyle Caldwell running for 12 yards to cap a 13-play, 89-yard drive that consumed 6:09 of the second quarter clock.

Shorter cut the lead to 14-7 on a 1-yard run by Eric Dodson with 36 seconds left in the first half.

Leading by just a touchdown at the half, it was more big plays from West Alabama special teams that opened up the game in the third quarter.

Reggie Hall set the Tigers up in the Shorter red zone with a 79-yard return of the second half kickoff. Johnston paid it off two plays later with an 8-yard run for a touchdown, putting UWA up 21-7 with just a minute gone in third quarter.

Johnston put the Tigers up 28-6 with his second TD of the game, a 36-yard run with 10:04 left in the third quarter, capping 4-play, 63-yard drive that took just 1:49 off the clock. A 74-yard Malik Lofton punt return for a touchdown extended the UWA lead to 35-7 with 4:07 left in the third period.

“Our defense was huge all night and Malik Lofton and Reggie Hall are tremendous athletes who made big plays on returns,” Johnston said. “The offense got clicking in the second half and it all came together at the end.”

UWA stretched the lead to 42-7 on the first play of the fourth quarter when Caldwell hit Curt Amacker on a 74-yard scoring pass. Johnston third touchdown of the game was a 3-yard run 6:20 left in the game, putting the Tigers up by the final margin.

Ryan Smith extended his consecutive extra point streak to 76 over the last two seasons by converting all seven tries against the Hawks.

UWA rolled up 419 total yards while limiting Shorter to just 208. Already the top defense in the GSC and in the top five nationally, UWA limited the Hawks to just 3.1 yards per play.

Deon Lacey lead Tiger tacklers with 11 stops, a tackle for loss and a forced fumble. Otha Foster recorded seven tackles to go with his touchdown on the fumble return.

Johnston led UWA rushers with 64 yards on 10 carries. Freshman Javae Swindle needed just four trips to pick up 57 yards. Caldwell completed 7-of-13 passes and was intercepted once. In addition to his punt return for a touchdown Lofton also caught four passes for 86 yards.

T.J. Telfair ran for 81 yards on 19 carries for Shorter. Dodson was just 4-of-12 for 46 yards against the top defense against the pass in the GSC.

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