North Alabama, Tuskegee prepare to open Division II playoffs



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North Alabama will be in a familiar place against a very familiar opponent this weekend.

The Lions face longtime Gulf South Conference rival Valdosta State Saturday in the opening round of the Division II playoffs, which the Lions have reached for the 10th time in the past 12 seasons and the 19th time overall.

UNA (9-1) will play Valdosta State (8-2) at noon at Braly Stadium in Florence in the opening round of the 24-team Division II playoffs. Tuskegee will also open the playoffs at home against West Georgia.

It will be the 39th meeting between UNA and Valdosta State and their sixth postseason matchup. UNA leads the series 22-15-1.

The Lions defeated Valdosta State 31-29 on Taylor Pontius' 54-yard field goal as time expired during the regular season.

"Facing Valdosta State again will be a tremendous challenge, not only because they are a really good football team but because it's always tough to play a team twice in a season," UNA coach Bobby Wallace said. "But there are no easy games at this stage."

Making it to this stage of the season has been a regular achievement for UNA over the years. The Lions' 19 playoff berths ties them with Northwest Missouri State for the most postseason appearances in Division II history.

"Winning the Gulf South Conference championship and making the playoffs were our first two goals," Wallace said. "Now we just have one left, and that's winning a national championship. This gets us one step closer to that goal."

The winner of Saturday's game will take on Lenoir-Rhyne (11-0) in next week's second round. Lenoir-Rhyne defeated UNA 42-39 in the playoff quarterfinals last year.

Tuskegee vs. West Georgia, noon

A year after making their Division II playoff debut, the Tuskegee Golden Tigers get to host a playoff game for the first time.

Tuskegee (9-2) will meet West Georgia (9-2) in the first round. The Golden Tigers lost at North Alabama in last year's opening round. West Georgia is in the postseason for the first time in 14 years.

Tuskegee comes in on a nine-game winning streak. The Golden Tigers clinched the SIAC West Division title two weeks ago with a 48-43 victory over Miles, then beat Albany State 47-41 in last week's conference championship game.

Saturday's winner will play Delta State (9-1) in the second round.

Jacksonville State at Southeast Missouri State, 1 p.m.

Jacksonville State clinched the Ohio Valley Conference championship last week, and the team is assured of a spot in the FCS playoffs as a result.

In between, however, the Gamecocks (9-1, 7-0 OVC) must make the long trip to Southeast Missouri State (5-6, 3-4) to play their regular-season finale.

"We still have to take care of business this weekend," JSU coach John Grass said. "This game is very important to us because we can get a bye week in the playoffs, which would be huge. I think our guys want that off week. They know how well the open weeks have been for our team."

Alabama State vs. Stillman, 1 p.m.

Alabama State (6-5) and Stillman (5-5) each need a victory to finish the season with a winning record.

It has been a season of streaks for both teams. After losing their opener, the Hornets won four in a row and then lost four straight. ASU currently is on a two-game winning streak.

Meanwhile, Stillman opened with two consecutive losses, ripped off four straight wins, then lost three in a row before last week's 31-26 victory over Clark Atlanta.

Alabama A&M at Arkansas-Pine Bluff, 2:30 p.m.

Alabama A&M is in danger of finishing 4-8 for the second consecutive season. The Bulldogs (4-7, 3-5 SWAC) have lost four of their past six, though one of the victories was over rival Alabama State in the Magic City Classic.

Arkansas-Pine Bluff (3-7, 2-6) is coming off a 56-6 loss to Alcorn State that dropped the Golden Lions into last place in the SWAC West Division.

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