Story by Chris Taylor, junior at SJBP STEM Magnet High School Program.
Five years ago, the University of Alabama-Birmingham (UAB) football program was dissolved. Many staff were let go of their duties and players were forced to transfer to different schools in hopes of playing college football again. Ultimately, the school’s decision to shut down the football program resulted from their lack of success and finances.
The UAB Blazers entered the 2019 New Orleans Bowl against the Appalachian State Mountaineers with a 9-3 record following a blowout 49-6 conference championship loss against the Florida Atlantic Owls. And sadly, the Blazers would leave with another loss, this time to the tune of 31-17.
But look at the bright side: ever since the school football program returned, the Blazers have made three straight bowl appearances.
The 20th-ranked (12-1) Mountaineers were a familiar face, making their second consecutive appearance in the New Orleans Bowl. Last year, Appalachian State dominated Middle Tennessee, 45-13, and they looked to do the same to the UAB Blazers, who were considered huge underdogs.
But UAB paid no mind to this at the start of the game, taking an early 14-0 lead. With two 25-yard touchdown passes from quarterback Tyler Johnson, the Blazers looked like they could make this game a battle and maybe even pull off an upset. The UAB defense was able to keep the powerful Mountaineer offense scoreless in the first quarter. Although UAB’s offense was held scoreless in the second quarter, their defense only allowed Appalachian State to reach the end zone once in the entire first half.
UAB’s second half was a different story. Appalachian State outscored UAB 14-3 in the second half on their way to a blowout win. The Mountaineers defense continued to dominate after their second quarter performance, forcing a scoop and score midway through the third, which gave them a 24-17 lead.
The Mountaineers went on to score one more touchdown in the third by literally wrestling the ball out of the Blazers secondary’s hands—just like the victory they snatched from them.
Though UAB took this heartbreaking loss, the mere fact that they played in this game is huge for this school. Before the school’s football program returned in 2017, the Blazers’ last bowl appearance was in the 2001 Hawaiian Bowl. That year was the team’s last winning season before 2018, when they came away with a win in the Boca Raton Bowl.
UAB was seeking their first-ever back-to-back bowl win in school history, but despite this loss, the school shows lots of promise. This program should not hang their heads after losing this game. The Blazers not only hope to return to a bowl game next year but to continue to gradually improve and increase the support that is behind them each year. UAB’s continued success will lead to an increase in finances and will keep their football program alive