CEDAR CITY, Utah — Southern Utah University Football lost a heartbreaker 34-30 to the University of North Alabama on Saturday at Eccles Coliseum.
The offseason-long quarterback competition appears to be settled as JUCO transfer Chris Helbig started from the first drive. Helbig shined throwing for 316 yards and two touchdowns, while adding 31 yards on the ground with a rushing touchdown.
Senior receiver Ty Rutledge led SUU in receiving with 161 yards and a score. Senior running back James Felila had 83 yards on the ground and one TD. Relief back Terrance Beasley added 67 yards rushing and receiver Judd Cockett hauled in his first touchdown of the season.
Chinedu Ahanonu led the team with ten tackles, and Kyle Hannemann snagged an interception.
North Alabama quarterback Christian Lopez threw for 350 yards and three touchdowns to go with one interception. Lopez also rushed for 112 yards and one TD.
Senior running back Damon Cox ran for another 76 yards. Dexter Boykin caught nine passes for 135 yards and two touchdowns. Jakobi Byrd added a score to go along with his 95 yards receiving.
SUU went into the half leading 16-13 after a blocked extra point. The teams traded scores after both Helbig and Lopez put together successful drives in the third quarter.
At the start of the fourth quarter, SUU led 23-20.
The T-bird offense played well in the fourth. On a drive with seven minutes remaining the T-Birds faced fourth and goal from the three yard line. Head Coach DeMario Warren was faced with a tough decision, go for the TD and make it a two-score game or take the field goal. Warren decided to go for it, and Helbig’s pass intended for Rutledge was incomplete.
The Lions responded with a 97 yard drive and scored to go ahead 27-23 with 4:47 left to play.
The last five minutes were full of excitement. Helbig lead the T-birds down the field with precision. James Felila punctuated the drive, running for a touchdown with two minutes remaining. Lopez responded with another great drive leading UNA down the field on its last chance to steal a victory away from home, but UNA was assisted by three pass interference calls on their way to the endzone.
The sketchy officiating unfortunately continued.
On second and goal with 24 seconds remaining, Lopez threw a slant to the left side. SUU corner Taelin Webb batted the ball into the air and the SUU defense caught it with 24 seconds left. T-bird fans could not celebrate however, as referees called Webb for pass interference on a play where Webb did not but graze the receiver. On the ensuing play, Lopez was flushed to his left by the SUU rush. Lopez threw off his back foot into the waiting hands of SUU safety Alex Sims. The potentially game-winning interception as inexplicably called back by the referees due to a roughing the passer penalty.
UNA scored on a pass to Boykin with twelve seconds remaining to go ahead 34-30, which would be the final score of the game.
The Thunderbirds will head to Corvallis, Oregon to take on the Oregon State Beavers on Saturday, September 8.
Story by: Connor Sanders
Photo by: Easton Bowring