Southern Utah University’s football team came out on top, 45-38, in overtime for their first win of the season against Stephen F. Austin University in the team’s home opener on Saturday night.
In a game that saw nearly 1,000 yards combined, fans in Cedar City were treated to an exciting matchup that went back and forth the entire game with five different lead changes. SUU started the game strong with a field goal on their opening possession. The defense recovered a fumble when Aaron Romero lit up Lumberjack quarterback Trae Self as he tried to power his way for a few more yards and a first down.
A few plays later the Thunderbirds pulled a trick out of their back pocket and executed a reverse pass. Wide receiver Lance Lawson threw the touchdown toss to quarterback Chris Helbig for a 10-0 lead.
Early in the second quarter, Lumberjack kicker Storm Ruiz nailed a field goal from 25 yards out. SUU responded with a touchdown of their own as Chris Helbig returned the favor to Lawson and found him for a 12-yard strike.
With the crowd fired up and all momentum in favor of SUU, the Thunderbird offense faltered on their way to another score when a tipped pass landed in the hands of Lumberback corner Eli Jones. He took it 76 yards to the house which cut the score to 17-10 in favor of SUU in a moment that proved to be the turning point of the game. With only 1:30 left in the second quarter the Lumberjacks found the end zone once again to tie it up 17-17 at halftime.
After an explosive offensive first half, both teams simmered down in the third quarter. Aside from a 55-yard bomb from Helbig to Lawson, the defenses settled down and limited big plays coming out of half time.
A short touchdown pass by the Lumberjacks deadlocked the score 24-24 leading into the fourth quarter.
SFA scored early in the fourth on a 24-yard pass from Self to Thom Hutchings. The T-Bird offense stalled out a few times before finding the end zone on a 5-yard James Felila run. With the score tied up 31-31 the game was set for a barnburner finish to the second half of the 4th quarter.
Things did not look good for T-Birds as SFA scored with only 3:13 left in the game to go up 38-31. T-Bird running back Thomas Duckett found a crease up the middle then bounced it to the sideline to tie the game 38-38 with 1:12 and the defense held to take the game to overtime.
In OT, SUU possessed the ball first and after a number of penalties on both teams, Felila scampered his way to the end zone for an eleven-yard touchdown run. Needing a score to extend the game, the Lumberjacks offense stalled and found themselves with a long 4th down.
Quarterback Trae Self dropped back to pass and in the face of a stiff Thunderbird rush lobbed a pass to his running back who was heading for the back of the end zone. The ball had a little too much air on it and it sailed out of the back of the end zone. The T-Bird defense held and secured the victory.
SUU claimed their first win of the 2019 season. They’ll go on the road to face an extremely talented and disciplined South Dakota State team on Saturday, Sept. 21. SUU will then be at home Saturday, Sept. 28 against Cal Poly in their conference opener that doubles as the team’s homecoming game.
Story by: Connor Aste
Photo by: Mitchell Quartz