By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal
The NCAA has Will Hall’s hackles up.
West Alabama’s second-year head coach doesn’t understand why his team has to travel to fellow Gulf South Conference member Valdosta State this Saturday for a second-round NCAA Division II football playoff game.
Hall’s Tigers, the GSC champion, defeated the Blazers 39-28 Sept. 22 in Valdosta.
“We had never beaten them there,” said Hall, an Amory native. “We won the conference outright. Then the NCAA puts us there. That’s a slap in our face.”
West Alabama (9-3), seeded No. 4 in Super Region 2, beat Miles 41-7 last weekend in a first-round home game.
Valdosta State (8-2), ranked No. 17 in the nation, was a top-seed in the Super Region and received a first-round bye.
Conference championships don’t carry a lot of weight when it comes to NCAA seeding, but Hall is proud of what his team accomplished.
“We’ve done something people said would never be done here,” he said. “This is like winning the SEC at Ole Miss and State. People are excited.”
Saturday’s game features national and GSC leaders in defense and offense from both teams.
West Alabama, under the direction of coordinator Robert Henry, a Corinth native, leads the NCAA in pass defense (127.5), pass efficiency defense (85.98) and tops the GSC in scoring defense (16.9), total defense (268.4) and rush defense (142.7).
“Coach Henry is a great football mind,” Hall said. “He’s great at adjusting during a game.”
West Alabama’s defense will be tested by a Valdosta State offense averaging 41.5 points and 477 yards per game.
The Tigers, directed by quarterbacks Gary Johnson and Kyle Caldwell, also lead the GSC in rushing offense (238.1). Johnson has rushed for a team-high 806 yards operating Hall’s option-oriented attack.
Sam Gregg, another Amory native, is Hall’s offensive coordinator.
“You’ve got to run to be successful,” Hall said. “Nobody who throws 60 times a game is putting a ring on their finger.”
Hall’s father, Bobby, has his high school team, Madison Central, playing Friday in the 6A state semifinals against South Panola.
“We talk every day,” Will Hall said. “We’re full-speed guys. We never believe we’re going to lose. We’re going to be prepared.”
In Will Hall’s case – for whatever the NCAA throws his way.