The 50th renewal of the UNA vs. Jacksonville State football rivalry will include a unique first. It will be the first time the game is played in a minor league baseball stadium.
Saturday’s game, which will kick off at 6 p.m., will take place at Toyota Field, which is the home of the Rocket City Trash Pandas, a Double-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels located in Madison. UNA will serve as the home team, and a crowd in the neighborhood of 10,000 is expected. Temporary bleachers were brought into a stadium that seats 7,000 for baseball games.
“It’s a different environment,” said Jacksonville State head coach Rich Rodriguez. “It is going to be neat, but it is going to be different. It’s an adjustment to play in a minor league stadium, going in one direction and all that kind of stuff. We’ve got to be focused and understand that we’re going to get their best shot and we’ve got to play well. I’m excited for our guys. It’s going to be a great crowd up there.”
The field is set up with one end zone in left field and the other end zone just outside the first base dugout. All the offensive possessions will go toward the first base dugout.
“It is kind of weird going one direction,” said Jacksonville State cornerback Jamri Jemison. “I thought about what happens if you get a pick — do we keep going that same way or do we go the other way?”
The returns, whether they be the sudden change of a turnover or a punt return, can go in either direction. If the return goes for a touchdown, then the team will kick the extra point at that end. If the runner is tackled, the officials will mark the ball at that yard line heading toward the first base dugout.
Northwestern and Illinois played at Wrigley Stadium in 2010. During that game, the teams’ offensive units also went one way because the end zone was too close to the outfield wall.
“Going in one direction, is a little bit different,” Rodriguez said. “Most coaches and teams are used to doing that in practice for scrimmaging and all that. That will be a little bit different for us in a game. We’ll go up there Friday and work through it. It will be the same for both teams.”
Two days away. 🏟 pic.twitter.com/1u0bR72F3v— Rocket City Trash Pandas (@trashpandas) October 13, 2022
Playing in stadiums built for baseball is not entirely unique. Yankee Stadium has hosted the Pinstripe Bowl since 2010. Fenway Park was scheduled to host a bowl game following the 2021 season, but the game between Virginia and SMU was canceled because of COVID-19 issues within the Virginia program. The 2022 Wasabi Fenway Bowl is scheduled for December 17.
The University of West Florida Argonauts, one of the top Division II programs in the country, played its games at Blue Wahoos Stadium in Pensacola from the first year of the program in 2016 until last season. The Pensacola Blue Wahoos are currently a Double-A affiliate of the Florida Marlins.
The surrounding will take a backseat, at least to the players, once the football is kicked off on Saturday.
“UNA is a big game,” said Jacksonville State offensive lineman Treylen Brown. “I’ve been here a while now, so I know the rivalry. They are always a real scrappy team. They play hard. We’re going to be ready for them.”
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