Photo | Shane Rice
West Alabama came up with scoring plays in the fourth quarter while its defense stymied Savannah State, paving the way for a 36-28 victory in the third Gulf Coast Challenge at Ladd-Peebles Stadium last Saturday night. The two teams went back and forth for the first three quarters of play, with Savannah State taking the lead into the final period.
The Gulf Coast Challenge is usually played in the fall, but COVID-19 restrictions pushed the game back to the spring this year. It is expected to return to its original fall schedule in the upcoming season.
Saturday’s game was played before a sparse crowd, announced at 3,499 (based on ticket sales) but a more accurate estimate of those in attendance would be about 1,000 or a little more.
Savannah State started the scoring quickly, with D’Vonn Gibbons scoring on a 37-yard run on the game’s first play from scrimmage. The point-after kick was good, putting Savannah ahead 7-0. After missing a field goal attempt on its first possession, West Alabama returned later in the quarter to tie the game at 7-all when Derrick Underwood found the end zone from 3 yards out to cap an eight-play, 64-yard drive.
West Alabama took the lead 10-7 when Gabriel Dunkle connected on a 32-yard field goal at the 12:12 mark of the second period, but Savannah State regained the lead when Gibbons produced a 41-yard scoring run that capped a five-play, 75-yard drive and put SSU in front 14-10 at the half.
The third period offered plenty of excitement. Less than a minute into the second half Savannah State’s Christon Johnson intercepted a pass and returned it 28 yards for a touchdown, putting SSU ahead by 11. West Alabama countered with a 48-yard scoring run from Underwood that cut the SSU lead to 21-17 with 13:34 left in the third quarter.
West Alabama moved back in front when speedster Tyriq Martin got behind defenders and hauled in a Jack McDaniels scoring pass that covered 42 yards. But Savannah State countered moments later when Einaj Carter caught a pass from Gibbons and completed a 76-yard scoring play, putting Savannah State in front 28-24.
Dunkle cut the Savannah State lead to a point at 28-27 when he connected on a 33-yard field goal with 13:23 left to play. West Alabama regained the lead with a safety a short time later to go in front 29-28.
A minus-5-yard punt following a high snap by Savannah State and a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty two plays later set West Alabama up on a first-and-goal situation. It parlayed the plays into a touchdown when McDaniels threw an 8-yard scoring strike to Bayley Blanchard, putting West Alabama in front 36-28.
A West Alabama sack on a fourth-down-and-21 play ended any last-second opportunities for a comeback. West Alabama went into victory formation in erasing the remaining time on the clock for the win.
West Alabama finishes its abbreviated spring schedule with a 2-0 record, having defeated Limestone 27-17 the previous Saturday. Savannah State, 0-1, has one more game at the end of the month on its spring schedule.
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