UWA blows out Stillman in Gilliland’s coaching debut

TUSCALOOSA – After a lightning delay pushed the kickoff back just short of two hours, West Alabama opened the Brett Gilliland era of Tiger football with a 44-20 victory over Stillman in the 2014 Tiger Bowl at Stillman Stadium.

West Alabama is 1-0 with a home opener against Shaw University on tap Saturday at Tiger Stadium. Stillman is 0-1 and visits Samford on Thursday.

“Our goal was to score one more than they did,” Gilliland said. “We talk to our kids all the time about being able to roll with every situation and I was proud of how we handled the delay.

“I love this football team. I wouldn’t take anything for them,” Gilliland said. “This win isn’t about me at all, its about these 70 guys who suit up tonight and another 40 or 50 more who didn’t travel, but do their part every day to make us better.”

UWA rolled up 235 yards of total offense in the first quarter on the way to 460 for the game. The Tigers jumped out to a 16-0 lead on a 7-yard touchdown runs by Kyle Caldwell and Jabari Baker on UWA’s first two possessions, followed by a safety when Tirelle Cullen tackled Jonathan Esther for a 3-yard loss in the Stillman endzone.

Stillman cut the lead to 16-7 on a 66-yard run by Jovontae Thurmon with 3:39 left in the first period. Thurmon’s 66 yards accounted for two-thirds of Stillman’s first-half rushing totals.

Another touchdown run by Baker, a 3-yarder on the first play of the second quarter, stretched West Alabama’s lead to 23-7. Javae Swindle’s burst free for a 48-yard scoring run with 58 seconds left in the second quarter to give UWA a 30-7 halftime lead.

Caldwell connected with Ty Morgan on a 14-yard scoring pass with 6:20 left in the third period, his 52nd career scoring pass, to increased the West Alabama lead to 37-7.

“I was pleased we were able to get the ball in Ty’s hands tonight,” Gilliland said. “He is too good of a player not to get touches.”

The UWA defense got in on the scoring when cornerback Izauea Lanier picked off Stillman quarterback Josh Straughan and took it back 100 yards for a touchdown to put West Alabama up 44-7 with 14:39 left to play. Lanier picked off the fourth-down pass three yards deep in the endzone, but college stats only allow the recording of 100 yards.

“I never thought about taking a knee,” Lanier smiled and said. “I have to give credit to Coach (Nathan) Burton on that one. He told me to disguise what coverage we were in and it obviously worked.”

Lanier, a transfer from Tennessee, is the third player in UWA history to return an interception 100 yards for a score. The last was Shontral Ford against Arkansas-Monticello in 2009.

Stillman wouldn’t lay down despite trailing 44-7. The Tigers scored the last two touchdowns of the game, one on a 6-yard pass from Josh Straughan to Dana Washington with 8:52 to play. Marcus McAfee scored from a yard out with 54 seconds left to cap an 11-play, 55-yard drive against UWA defensive reserves.

“We have to learn to finish games, to be able to take time off the clock,” Gilliland said. “We can be a better team than the way we finished tonight.”

Swindle led all rushers with 123 yards on nine carries. Cheeto Johnson gained 60 yards on just three carries and Baker finished with 54 yards on 13 trips. Thurmon ran for 71 yards on eight carries for Stillman.

Caldwell was 7-for-13 for 141 yards with a touchdown and one interception. Straughan completed 16-of-28 for 179 yards, a TD and an interception.

Chad Toocheck and Morgan had two receptions each to lead West Alabama. Dondre Purnell had nine catches for 93 yards for Stillman.

Fred Barnes led West Alabama tacklers with seven. Dwight Herlong, Frank Richardson, Martaze Jackson and Quinton Harton recorded five tackles each. UWA had sacks from Jackson, Jherron Jones, Justin Wright and Cullen.

Cameron Stilling had eight stops to lead Stillman defenders.