No. 14/18 Thunderbirds Claim Big Sky Conference Title With Victory Over No. 23 Northern Arizona

The No. 14/18 Thunderbird football team claimed their second Big Sky Conference title on Saturday, as they knocked off rival Northern Arizona in the Hinton Burdick Grand Canyon Trophy game 48-20.

The Thunderbirds earned an automatic bid to the FCS Playoffs with the victory.

To top it all off, Saturday was also Senior Night at Southern Utah University.

“I’m really just so proud of the group,” SUU head coach Demario Warren said. “We fought all year to get to this point, and guys were banged up off of that UC Davis win, a lot of guys didn’t practice … They had a look in their eyes that they wanted to go out there and win it not only for this team, but the program, the city and the university.”

The first quarter was a duel of the field goal kickers, as Manny Berz put the Thunderbirds up 3-0 with a 21-yard attempt that went through the uprights. Northern Arizona added two field goals before the end of the quarter, and the Lumberjacks led 6-3 at the end of the first 15 minute period.

The second quarter is when the Thunderbirds got moving. Berz knocked home a 41 yard field goal to start things off, knotting up the contest at 6-6.

After a fumble by NAU on the ensuing kickoff, Patrick Tyler was able to break in the end zone with his legs and put the Thunderbirds up 13-6.

After another fumble by the Lumberjacks on the very next kickoff, the Thunderbirds were able to drive 64 yards that was capped by a 23 yard rush from Tyler to put the Thunderbirds ahead 20-6.

On SUU’s next drive, the T-Birds went 10 plays, 48 yards to score on the legs of Jay Green Jr. and go ahead 27-6.

The Lumberjacks added a touchdown before the end of the half, and the Thunderbirds took a 27-13 lead into the halftime break.

24 points was the most the Lumberjacks had allowed in a quarter all season long. Landen Measom had seven catches in the opening half.

SUU didn’t get moving quickly in the third quarter, but were able to get on the board with 6:34 left as Green Jr. broke into the end zone and put SUU up 33-13.

The Thunderbirds struck again right before the end of the quarter, as Isaiah Diego-Williams scored on a fly sweep to put the Thunderbirds up 41-13.

SUU added one more touchdown thanks to Green Jr. before the contest wrapped, and the Lumberjacks were able to get one more as well to bring the final score to 48-20.

Tyler finished with 238 yards through the air on Saturday, and ran for 31 yards and scored two touchdowns on the ground.

Green Jr. finished with 134 yards and three touchdowns on the day.

“This is my first championship and my first season playing Division I football, and I was savoring it the whole time if I’m being honest,” Green Jr. said. “I was just savoring it with them and my brothers and it was probably one of the best moments of my life.”

Mike Needham finished with four tackles, a tackle for loss and a pass breakup on the night.

Jarmaine Doubs Jr. led the team with seven tackles for the game. Tyler Collet had six, and both Mitch Dalley and Alex Sims had five.

Southern Utah claimed their first Big Sky Conference Championship in 2015.

“That one was a turning point in our school history in our program, but this one feels great because we have a whole new type of group,” Needham said. “We came in with 47 freshmen, didn’t really know what to expect, but with the leaders that we have we were able to get it done. And that’s a great feeling.”

The Thunderbirds out gained the Lumberjacks 442-379.

The Thunderbirds will now wait to see what’s on deck next, as the FCS Playoff Selection Show will take place at 9 a.m. MT on Sunday morning.

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SUU Athletics Strategic Communications