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The North Alabama Lions will call Toyota Field home for this weekend’s rivalry matchup against visiting Jacksonville State for the first-ever football game played at the usual home of the Rocket City Trash Pandas. The game is expected to attract over 10,000 fans for the college game. Photo- Jacksonville State Athletics

Toyota Field Turns Into Football Field- North Alabama vs. Jacksonville State College Football This Saturday

MADISON- A piece of history for all involved will occur this Saturday as Toyota Field will host its first collegiate football game within the confines of normally the home of the Rocket City Trash Pandas baseball team. The North Alabama Lions will face the Jacksonville State Gamecocks in a key ASUN Conference game with kickoff set for 6:00 p.m.

“We look forward to welcoming UNA and JSU to Toyota Field for a top-notch experience that we offer all of our fans every night during baseball season,” said Garrett Fahrmann, General Manager of the Rocket City Trash Pandas.

This will be the 50th meeting of the two in-state colleges with the Gamecocks owning an overall 28-18-3 edge in the series and have won 11 out of the last 12 meetings of the once NCAA Div. II powerhouses. Both are now part of the Div. I ASUN Conference. Last season, Jax State squeezed out a 27-24 victory over UNA.

This season, the Gamecocks are currently 5-1, 1-0 and come into the game on top of the conference standings and having a bye week in preparation for the battle with the Lions. The Lions, meanwhile are 1-4 and are coming off a heart-wrenching 40-34 double-overtime loss to Kennesaw State. On the 2022 campaign, Jax State is averaging 36 points per game while allowing 23 points per outing and roll up 424 yards of offense while its defense is giving up 347 yards per game. UNA is scoring 26 points per game and giving up slightly more with 29 points allowed. On average, the Lions have 340 yards of offense per game while allowing 417 yards to each opponent. One facet about the game is the fact UNA is also averaging 75 yards of penalties each time it steps out onto the field compared to just 44 for the Gamecocks.

As for anyone who has watched this in-state battle through the years, it’s always known you can throw out the statistics each year as it’s a face-to-face clash of two well-respected programs with a long history in college football dating back to 1949. This year’s game is expected to be one to see and remember.

“This is an important game for us, not only because it’s an ASUN Conference game against our oldest rival, but also because we are playing in Madison, an area that is extremely important to our football program, our athletic program and our university,” said Chris Willis, head coach of North Alabama in his sixth season as head coach and 21st season overall at UNA.  “Playing the first football game at Toyota Field will be exciting for our players and we’re expecting a great atmosphere.”

For North Alabama, all eyes will be on ShunDerrick Powell of Arkansas (RB, 5-7, 168, So.) as the quick-footed running back is second in the FCS in rushing yards (636, 140 average, 9 per carry), third in scoring (12 per game) and fourth in touchdowns (9) and all-purpose yards per game (163). He will get the ball from quarterback Noah Walters (QB, 6-0, 190, Fr.) of Lincoln, Nebraska who has hit for 53-percent of his passes with 160 yards per game average. Top receivers include Takairee Kenebrew (WR, 6-2, 190, R-Jr.), and Parker Driggers (WR, 6-0, 198, R-So.).

For the one-loss Gamecocks, senior quarterback Zion Webb (QB, 6-0, 200, R-Sr.)  has passed for six touchdowns and 159 yards per game while connecting on 56-percent of his passes. Webb has also rushed for nine touchdowns. Anwar Lewis (RB, 5-8, 180, R-So.) has crossed the goal line for five touchdowns while receivers Sterling Galban (WR, 5-11, 180, R-Jr.) has 13 catches for three scores and Sean Brown (TE, 6-5, 250, R-So.) at tight end has become a huge part of the Gamecocks’ offense with 13 catches and one touchdown on the season.

Jacksonville State is led by head coach Rich Rodriguez who is ranked 16th among all active Div. I head coaches in career wins and has been named conference coach of the year five times in three different conferences. Before arriving to coach the Gamecocks he had stints as head coach at West Virginia, Michigan and Arizona.

On defense, North Alabama is led by Kyree Fields (DB, 5-11, 206, Jr.) with 33 tackles and Gallil Guillaume (LB, 6-1, 227, Jr.) with 26 tackles. Additional outstanding play for the Lions’ defense include Justin Douglas (DB, 5-8, 159, Jr.) with two interceptions. Jacksonville State has a bevy of talent on defense led by Markail Benton (LB, 6-2, 230, R-Sr.) with 42 total tackles and Stevonte Tullis (LB, 6-0, 210, R-Sr.) who has compiled 38 tackles on the season.

Although North Alabama is the home team for this contest, it will be just the second game in the series that has not been played in either Jacksonville or Florence. The only other meeting outside of those locations was at Birmingham’s Legion Field in 1971, with JSU taking a 60-7 win.

UNA and Jacksonville State are both in the ASUN Conference in the FCS, and JSU is already giving FBS scholarship numbers in anticipation of its move to Conference USA, therefore, the Gamecocks are not eligible to compete for the ASUN Conference Championship or an FCS playoff spot.

The uniqueness of the battle between two longtime rivals is the fact the field will be laid out to run East and West. At Toyota Field, the layout will be first baseline to left field fence. Due to space limitations at the end of each endzone, the game will be a “one-directional” contest, which means all offensive plays for both teams will be run to the west end zone (first base side). The east end of the field can still be used on defensive touchdowns and punt returns, as well as, defensive safeties. The move to the one-directional game required an NCAA waiver before the contest could be approved. In addition, both teams will have their full contingent of band members in attendance, which will surely add a traditional college football feel to the special Toyota Field environment.

“Playing a game that will only go in one direction will be something that we will have to adjust to once we get into the game,” added Willis. “That aspect will be more like a scrimmage format, but it will be something both teams will have to adjust to. As for Jacksonville State, it is a really good football team that is well coached and has lots of explosive players.”

The matchup will be presented by MartinFed, one of the nation’s leading federal contractors headquartered in Huntsville. “MartinFed is proud to be the presenting sponsor of a great event that showcases such amazing teams and organizations. Investing in our communities is part of our corporate culture and we couldn’t be more excited for this event,” said Matthew Schmitz, a UNA Alumnus and Chief Growth Officer for MartinFed.

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