Saturday, Oct. 17 marked the annual “Grand Canyon Rivalry” football game between Southern Utah University and Northern Arizona University. Unfortunately for the Thunderbirds, the matchup was not close and they lost 59-35. The loss drops SUU to 1-6 on the year, 0-4 in the Big Sky Conference.
The 59 points allowed to NAU is the most given up by the Thunderbirds this year, even after facing two Football Bowl Subdivision opponents earlier in the season. The scoring barrage started immediately with the Lumberjacks jumping to a 24-0 lead in just over one quarter of play.
After NAU’s fourth scoring drive, the Thunderbirds received the ball with 12 minutes left in the second quarter. SUU was able to piece together a 12-play drive and score their first points of the game on a quarterback keeper from senior Justin Miller.
SUU was finally on the board offensively but their defense continued to struggle. On NAU’s next possession, quarterback RJ Martinez found receiver Hendrix Johnson for a 72-yard touchdown on their second play of the drive. Martinez threw three touchdown passes in the first half.
At this point in the game, SUU’s offense was just waking up. Sophomore running back Karris Davis opened the next drive with a 65-yard run to answer back. The big play set up a Miller touchdown to sophomore receiver Brandon Schenks from eight yards out. SUU went into halftime trailing 31-14.
Coming out of the break, the two teams seemed much more evenly-matched. SUU came within 10 points when senior Thomas Duckett found the end zone on a 1-yard touchdown run.
At the end of the day, there was just no stopping the Lumberjacks as the game always seemed just out of reach. Martinez had a stellar day, completing 79% of his passes for 417 yards and five touchdowns.
Miller threw for over 300 yards and once touchdown, but the Thunderbirds had an amazing day on the ground. Two running backs, Davis and sophomore Isaiah WIlliams, broke the 100-yard mark. SUU finished with 221 total rushing yards — a season-high.
Southern Utah returns home next Saturday, Oct. 23 for a matchup against the University of Northern Colorado. The Grizzlies are 1-3 in conference play and present a hopeful matchup for the Thunderbirds. Kickoff is at 6 p.m. at Eccles Coliseum and can also be streamed on ESPN+.
Story By: Christian Esparza Sports@suunews.net
Photo Courtesy of SUU Athletics