(STATS) - Big South teams probably swelled with pride when the North Alabama team that will join their conference next year pulled off a 34-30 upset at defending Big Sky co-champion Southern Utah Saturday night.
Then it probably settled in that it may difficult to beat the Lions regularly in the future.
Quarterback Christian Lopez accounted for 455 yards of total offense and four touchdowns, including a 1-yard scoring pass to Dexter Boykin with 12 seconds remaining, to lift the STATS FCS Team of the Week to the rousing win in its first game on the subdivision level. The former Division II program is playing an independent schedule this season before it begins play in the Big South next year.
"That's a statement win for us," second-year coach Chris Willis said afterward.
The Lions, whose school is located in Florence, Alabama, showed firepower and composure. Five previous leads slipped away, including on Southern Utah running back James Felila's 1-yard score with 2:02 left, which put the Thunderbirds ahead 30-27.
But Lopez, a junior college transfer, directed a nine-play, 75-yard drive for the game-winning touchdown. The T-birds committed four penalties on the drive, including two that reversed interceptions.
Lopez passed for 350 yards and often used the middle of the field to dent SUU for another 105 rushing yards. Two of his three TD passes went to Boykin in the fourth quarter.
It may have been easy for the Thunderbirds to overlook North Alabama. Last year, the Lions needed a season-ending win to avoid their first losing record since 2002.
However, UNA is a three-time D-II national champ (1993-95) and a two-time runner-up, most recently two years ago. After the Division I split in 1978, they went 6-7 against FCS opponents and 2-2 against FBS opponents.