North Alabama gets past tough Shepherd defense in D-II semis

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. (AP) Jacob Tucker passed for a touchdown and rushed for another as North Alabama beat Shepherd 23-13 in a Division II semifinal on Saturday.

Tucker, a Harlon Hill finalist, went 12 for 27 for 178 yards and a touchdown and ran for another 113 yards.

North Alabama (11-1) advanced to the Division II national championship in Kansas City on Dec. 17. The Lions will try to win their fourth national championship and their first since 1997, when the school hosted the championship.

''Very proud to have this opportunity to come here and play a great football game,'' said North Alabama head coach Bobby Wallace. ''I give Shepherd a lot of credit for making it very tough on us.''

Shepherd (13-1), which made its third trip to the semifinals, seemed to gain some momentum on defense as they kept North Alabama out of the end zone during the entire second half. Linebacker Octavius Thomas forced two North Alabama fumbles, but Shepherd was unable to capitalize with a touchdown and settled for two field goals.

Shepherd scored on the game's opening drive, but struggles on special teams throughout the first half gave the Lions good field position on multiple series. Tucker and offensive weapons Dre Hall and Damon Cox took advantage and North Alabama led 20-10 at halftime.

In the third quarter, after both teams traded three-and-outs, the Lions drove down the field to their own 43 when Thomas forced his second fumble of the day. Shepherd capitalized with a field goal to pull to 20-13.

It remained a seven-point lead for much of the second half.

The Lions pinned the Rams at their own 1-yard line in the fourth quarter. Shepherd quarterback Ziemba threw an interception to safety Dorsey Norris with 3:43 left and Kevin Henke kicked a 35-yard field goal on the ensuing drive with 2:35 left.

''Proud of the effort from our guys,'' said Shepherd coach Monte Carter. ''I thought they really battled. We had to settle for a couple of field goals and obviously we would have liked to have the seven. I thought that the defense did a nice job not giving up a lot of big plays and going ahead and really hold them in the second half to very few scores.''

North Alabama will go for their fourth national championship and their first since 1997, when the school hosted the championship.

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