The West Georgia Wolves ended their season against the West Florida Argonauts. After a season filled with such high hopes, National Championship aspirations ended in an ended earlier than most would have expected. The Wolves were plagued with injuries, turnovers and a lack of chemistry for most of the year. As a result, they missed the playoffs for the first time since Head Coach Will Hall came to UWG from West Alabama.
The 2016 team started the season as the second ranked team in Division II football and the favorites to win the Gulf South Conference for the second year in a row. Upon kicking the season off on Sept. 3, they looked to remain that way with a dominate 23-3 win over a ranked Catawba. The offense had room for improvement, to say the least. However, the Wolves defense appeared better than ever. .
On Sept. 10, UWG saw much of the same against Miles College. The Wolves offense allowed two fumbles and two interceptions. Despite the carelessness with the football, the defense, again, stood tall in a 29-0 beat down, resulting in the fourth shutout under Coach Hall’s tenure.
The Wolves opened conference play against perennial powerhouse Delta State on Sept. 17. The Statesmen jumped to a 12-0 lead in the second quarter. The Wolves fought back from special teams struggles with special team plays of their own, blocking a punt and having cornerback Laronji Vason scoop-and-score. Vason’s touchdown sparked the team, and gave UWG their first lead of the game. UWG quarterback Will Gardner fed off that momentum, having his best day in a Wolves uniform as he threw four touchdowns. The Wolves went on to a 34-24 victory.
UWG played their first of three straight road games against Albany State (ASU) on Sept. 24. The Wolves were favored by 24 points according to D2football.com and came out on their opening drive with an early lead. The Golden Rams, however, would not lay down lightly and would only be down 27-14 at half. ASU incredibly shut the Wolves out in the second half, and the Wolves escaped South Georgia with a 27-23 win.
The Wolves suffered three straight conference losses to North Alabama, Valdosta State and West Alabama. North Alabama beat the Wolves in heartbreaking fashion 24-23 due to a missed field goal in the last second of the game. Valdosta State beat up the Wolves’ defense and forced turnovers throughout the game in a 38-27 upset. West Alabama gave UWG their first loss at home since Oct. 19, 2013, in a game that shut Coach Hall’s offense out for the first time since arriving at UWG in a 31-7 upset where the only points for the Wolves came off of a pick six. During those three losses UWG turned the ball over 13 times and gave up an average of 31 points a game.
When Homecoming kicked off, the Wolves came out with a new game plan. They changed the quarterback and went back to the read option offense for the first time since last year. The offense clicked well against Mississippi College and freshman quarterback Willie Candler shined with three touchdowns in a 31-23 win against the Choctaws.
UWG took the road to Rome to take on Shorter University, where the offense again played lights-out football. The Wolves only turned the ball over one time and exploded on offense where they scored their most points on the season, in part because of a huge second half performance. The defense shined like they did earlier in the season, holding Shorter University to only 145 total yards and not allowing a single point for the second time this season. The Wolves played their best game by far, winning 44-0.
The UWG seniors took University Field for the last time against Florida Tech. Unfortunately for the Wolves, they were defeated for the second year in a row by the Panthers after a hard fought game that was marred by UWG turnovers.
The 2016 Wolves had many great moments despite their early end to the season. They saw senior defensive end Dylan Donahue break the all-time UWG sack record, a feat he accomplished in only two years. The Wolves saw cornerback Marcus Sayles break his own blocked kicks record. They even watched the future of their program shine late in the season in young Willie Candler. Despite all these great accomplishments, 2016 will be remembered as a year of what-ifs. The Wolves had plenty of talent this year and will return many starters next year, but what if this was their year?