Thunderbirds Soar Past Bengals for Second Win of the Year

The Southern Utah University Thunderbirds finally caught a break as they defeated the Idaho State Bengals 59-34 on Oct. 26, ending a five-game losing streak.

“I’m just thankful and grateful for the team I have,” SUU head coach Demario Warren said. “It was hard to lose that many games in a row, losing at home and the guys came out and had a tremendous week of practice.”

The win also puts SUU with a 2-7 overall record and 1-4 in Big Sky Conference play.

The first quarter ended up being a highlight reel. Thunderbirds started the game with an interception from freshman defensive back Carlton Johnson, who returned the ball to the Bengals’ 16-yard line. Six plays later, running back Lance Lawson rushed in the game’s first touchdown from seven yards out. 

The Bengals responded on their next drive when Ty Flanagan ran 54 yards to tie the game up at seven. The T-Birds wasted no time in taking the lead back, as sophomore quarterback Chris Helbig found senior wide receiver Carlos Baker for a wide open 55-yard score to make the game 14-7.

“I had (a pass to me like that) in spring ball where Chris threw it to me and I was wide open downfield and I dropped it,” Baker said. “I couldn’t make that mistake (again) so I focused on it and just caught it and made sure I tucked it in.”

SUU blocked a Bengals’ punt on the next possession to set the offense up on the 12-yard line, where Helbig ran in for his sixth rushing touchdown of the season to give the T-Birds a 21-7 lead.

Nela Otukolo got the second pick of the day for the Thunderbirds’ defense from ISU quarterback Matt Struck, and the offense capitalized once again when Helbig found Thomas Duckett for a 22-yard score to give SUU a 28-7 lead. The Bengals ended the first quarter with a touchdown, but still trailed 28-14.

“You can’t ask for a better start,” Helbig said. “We started inside their territory a few times in that first quarter and we capitalized on that. Just to be able to take advantage of those opportunities is something that we needed to get better at and I think we did a good job in taking a step forward.”

ISU converted two field goals while SUU converted one to make the score 31-20 at the half.

The Bengals made things interesting when Struck found wide receiver Tanner Connor for a 13-yard touchdown to cut the SUU lead to 45-34. SUU responded with a 15 play, 75-yard drive that took seven minutes off the clock capped by a seven yard rushing touchdown by Duckett.

Johnson put the game out of reach when he picked off Struck again and returned the interception 51 yards for a touchdown to give the T-Birds a 59-34 victory.

Helbig finished the game with completing 20 passes for 268 yards and four touchdowns, while Duckett and James Felila combined for 167 rushing yards and a touchdown off of 25 carries.

SUU will play the 14/15 ranked Montana State Bobcats on Nov. 2 in Bozeman, Montana at 12 p.m. on ROOT Sports and KSUB 590 AM.

Story by: Kurt Meacham
Photo by: Mitchell Quartz