The 8th ranked West Alabama Tigers struggled early before finally exploding for a 44-0 demolition of the Clark Atlanta Panthers Saturday night at Panthers Stadium.
“We came out kind of sluggish on offense,” said West Alabama head coach Will Hall.
Penalties and a fumble ended the Tigers first two drives of the game. On the third drive, senior running back and pre-season All American Matthew Willis picked up his team gaining 33 all-purpose yards to set up a 36 yard field goal.
Where West Alabama’s struggles lasted only a few minutes, Clark Atlanta’s woes continued for 60 minutes.
After the defense tightened enough to hold the Tigers to a field goal, the offense gave the ball right back.
Senior linebacker Bryant McGowan stuck CAU freshman running back Antonio Ford in the backfield jarring the ball loose. Junior defensive back Fred Barnes dove between the tree trunk legs of the trench warriors to make the recovery for West Alabama.
Gary Johnston replaced starting quarterback Kyle Caldwell for the Tigers first series of the second quarter. Johnston hooked up with Malik Lofton for a 24 yard gain to give the Tigers their first truly redzone opportunity.
From the ten, Willis showed exactly why he is being considered as a pre-season candidate for the Harlon Hill Tropy. Willis started up the middle, cut right and simply out ran the Panthers defense to the endzone.
West Alabama added two more field goals before the opening half expired.
Clark Atlanta showed a few flashes of what future opponents may see when they opened the second half. Consecutive penalties on the offensive line kept the flashes from catching fire.
“We are missing three offensive linemen that could have played,” said Panthers head coach Darryl McNeil. “David Grace is a senior you know, he’s missing and who’s pretty much a mainstay.”
The Tigers scored on four of their next seven possessions to put the game in outer space.
Willis caught a 62 yard pass for a touchdown and rushed 55 yards for another score to finish with three touchdowns, 163 yards rushing on 15 carries and 73 yards receiving.
In split duty, Caldwell finished with 2 touchdowns, 215 yards on 12 of 19 passing despite having two big pass plays nullified by the officials.
There is room for debate on the ineligible receiver downfield penalty that erased Seth Robert’s 60 yard catch and run, but the officials owe the Tigers an apology on the second call.
Caldwell’s pass to sophomore receiver Chad Toocheck was ruled incomplete despite the receiver having control of the ball while crossing the goal line. What’s truly troubling is that there wasn’t contact until the receiver reached the middle of the endzone. The Side Judge signaled for the score while the Back Judge signaled incomplete pass. After the officials conferenced, the pass was ruled incomplete. Amazing!
“We got a lot of things to improve on,” said Hall. One of things Coach Hall will have to improve upon is reducing the number of penalties. West Alabama was penalized 18 times for 150 yards.
In comparison, Clark Atlanta was penalized 8 times for 40 yards.
“Starting out that way (playing the 8 th ranked team) it’s a good measuring stick,” said McNeil after the game.
Clark Atlanta travels to Tennessee to play Lane College, a 45-28 winner over Edward Waters College. West Alabama gets a tougher test closer to home when they take on Samford, a 24-21 winner over Furman.
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