BIRMINGHAM – He will have more challenging assignments during his first season as UAB football's head coach. But it had to be hard for Bryant Vincent to stop smiling after his team opened the season with a 59-0 victory over Alabama A&M with a Protective Stadium crowd of 32,542.
Perhaps the best thing about the evening was it came with contributions from every area. The UAB offense clicked despite missing some key components. The Blazers' defense, active all night, caused four turnovers and pitched the shutout. Special teams contributed a touchdown and a long field goal.
"We've worked extremely hard for this moment," Vincent said. "To be able to go out there, it wasn't perfect, but to go out there and play really good it's just a testament to the work they've put in. It's a big step forward, and it's a great start to the season."
The tone was set early when UAB took the opening kickoff and promptly marched 70 yards on eight plays despite missing running back DeWayne McBride (illness) and left tackle Kadeem Telfort (injury). Jermaine Brown Jr., the running back starter, had 31 yards rushing on the drive, including a 19-yard scoring burst that featured a nice right-to-left cut, and added a 12-yard gain on a swing pass from Dylan Hopkins.
After the defense forced a three-and-out, UAB's Charlie Goode blocked Troy Lendvay's punt, and UAB's Damien Miller recovered in the end zone. It was the first college football play in Goode's career.
"It was great," Goode said. "We've been working it all week. I really wasn't even supposed to block the punt. I was supposed to take out the shield. But I saw it open up, the punter was in my face, and I stuck hands. Crazy, man, it's a good feeling."
The rout was on.
By the end of the quarter, the lead was 28-0, with tight end Bryce Damous scoring on a 25-yard pass from Hopkins and Mac McWilliams scoring on a 78-yard interception return.
UAB's second-quarter points came on a 2-yard run by Lee Witherspoon and a 51-yard field goal by Matt Quinn on the final play of the first half. Witherspoon's first TD in a UAB uniform was set up by a 29-yard pass from Hopkins to Tejhaun Palmer.
Hopkins had a 4-yard scoring run with 9:47 left in the third quarter. The touchdown came one play after Brown came up just short of scoring after a 54-yard burst. UAB scored again about four minutes later when Terrell McDonald gathered in a 4-yard scoring toss from backup quarterback Jacob Zeno. Witherspoon, who missed last season with a broken leg, closed the scoring with a 33-yard touchdown run.
The final numbers were impressive. UAB outgained Alabama A&M, 410-232, with Hopkins throwing for 191 yards and Brown carrying the ball 10 times for 119 yards. Vincent said it wasn't until about 4:30 on Thursday afternoon that he knew for sure that McBride wouldn't be able to play. UAB still had 163 yards rushing on 21 carries.
"He had like a little stomach bug, illness was messing with him. I knew I had to step up and bring whatever I could," Brown said.
UAB had nine players catch a pass, and leading returning receiver Trea Shropshire wasn't one of them. Shropshire got hurt on the game's first drive and did not return. Palmer and TJ Jones each had four catches.
On defense, Noah Wilder had a team-high nine tackles, and Reynard Ellis had six tackles. The Blazers got interceptions by McWilliams, Jaylen Key and Xavier Lanier. Most importantly, the Blazers got the shutout.
"It feels good to come out there and do what we supposed to do," McWilliams said.
For Vincent, it was only the first step. It was also an important step.
"It's very rewarding. It's hard to put into words," Vincent said. "It's been a long journey. It's been a great journey. To do it here and the way we won the game is, obviously, very special for me and my family. "
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