UA Unified Football Team Falls to Ole Miss

UA Special Olympics College athlete Kemondre Taylor (right) fights for a catch against an Ole Miss defender Sunday in their Unified Flag Football game.

The University of Mississippi’s Special Olympics College Unified football team defeated The University of Alabama 51-27 Nov. 13 at the UA Rec fields.

Alabama’s loss evened the series at 1-1 ahead of the Nov. 19 “Unified Iron Bowl” against Auburn’s Special Olympics College team.

Unified Sports is a burgeoning, inclusive sports initiative in which teams must have at least 50 percent young adults with intellectual disabilities (athletes) and the offset from typical students (partners) enrolled at UA. UA Special Olympics College has more than 20 area athletes and competes in football, basketball and volleyball.

UA and Ole Miss were tied at 20 after touchdown catches by Brad Zizzi and Michael Davis. But UA threw interceptions on its next drives to help set up a 35-yard touchdown run by Ole Miss partner Marcus Thornton. 

UA athlete Ryan Johnson threw a 27-yard touchdown pass to Brad Zizzi to bring UA to within five, 32-27, midway through the second half. But two more turnovers and explosive plays by Ole Miss doomed UA’s late-game comeback bid.

UA Special Olympics College athlete Brad Zizzi, left, high-fives partner and UA student Ivan Bailey after scoring a touchdown Sunday.

R.J. Nealon, athlete and University of Alabama student, had a team-high two interceptions.

“Every time they ran and faked it, I would just read the pass,” he said. “I’ve played defense all my life, so reading the plays just comes easy for me.” 

Nealon, who joined the team last year, said the team’s performance is “surprising” after a solid week of practice.

“We couldn’t tackle and get the flags off,” Nealon said. “We beat ourselves today. We turned the ball over on offense. These are things we have to go back to the drawing board and fix for Auburn next week.”

Zizzi, a UA CrossingPoints graduate, led UA with two touchdown catches.

Ivan Bailey, UA senior and club president, said the fan turnout Sunday was the “most we’ve ever had” for a football game.

UA’s gymnastics team attended the game and cheered with UA’s Unified Cheerleading team. Da’Shawn Hand, defensive tackle for UA’s football team, cheered on the Unified teams and took pictures with the athletes following the game.

Ole Miss defeated UA’s B-team, 34-18. Shawn Hunter, UA athlete, had one passing touchdown and one touchdown reception in the loss.

Alabama’s A-team will play host to Auburn University at 2 p.m., Nov. 19 at the intramural fields behind the UA Rec and along Campus Drive.

The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.