Delane Fitzgerald’s first SUU game ends in 44-13 Thunderbird win

On Sept. 1, Southern Utah University battled the University of St. Thomas in their season and home opener at Eccles Coliseum. The T-Birds’ win is their first home win since 2020. Entering the Western Athletic Conference, the T-Birds had their first test since hiring Head Coach Delane Fitzgerald and adding a plethora of new players.

First Quarter

The Tommies received the ball to start the game, and two plays later, they were in the endzone, courtesy of sophomore running back Shawn Shipman. The touchdown was set up with a 60-yard run by another sophomore running back, Hope Adebayo, on the first play of the game.  

The T-Birds started off the game slow by going three-and-out on their first offensive possession.

Senior quarterback Cade Sexauer and junior wide receiver Jacob Wildermuth connected on a 36-yard gain, but a false start penalty put the Tommies back and ended their drive with a turnover on downs.  

An illegal block by running back Bobby Cole put the T-Birds back 15-yards. A couple plays later, redshirt quarterback Justin Miller and tight end Mata’ava Ta’ase connected on a 38-yard pass. Lafayette College transfer kicker Micah Pettit put it through the uprights for three, cutting the Tommies lead to 7-3.

The Tommies started their next drive by getting a first down, but the next three plays were for no gain and a punt. T-Bird and former Kent State transfer wide receiver Isaiah Wooden caught a pass from Miller for a 42-yard gain, putting them on the Tommies one-yard line. On the next play, Cole rushed in for the T-Birds first touchdown of the season, taking the lead 10-7.

Second Quarter

Miller hit Wooden for a 64-yard passing touchdown to put the T-Birds up 17-7.

The T-Birds and Tommies traded possessions without a score for a couple of drives. SUU started to gain traction after Miller completed a pass to sophomore tight end Francisco Calderon while taking a late hit from the Tommies’ sophomore linebacker Luke Herzog. After getting the ball within the 10-yard line, a delay of game pushed them back five yards. Pettit drilled his field goal attempt from 31 yards out, putting the T-Birds up 20-7.

With over five minutes left in the second quarter, the Tommies had a chance to get some points before the half, but a great defensive stand by the T-Birds had SUU heading to the locker room up 20-7.

Third Quarter

The T-Birds started the third quarter stagnant, going three-and-out. St. Thomas had a short-lived first drive, five plays and 29 yards before turning it over on downs. 

During the next drive, Ta’ase and Miller connected again in the endzone. On the point after attempt, junior holder and wide receiver Ethan Bolingbroke ran in a bobbled snap for two points, putting the T-Birds up 28-10.   

The Tommies were starting to move the chains when T-Bird freshman linebacker Kohner Cullimore had a late hit on Sexauer. Cullimore was ejected for a targeting violation. Followed by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Coach Fitzgerald, gave the Tommies 30-yards from penalties. Sexauer then connected with senior running back Josh Komis for a short touchdown pass. After a failed two-point conversion, the Thunderbirds lead 28-13.

In an effort to keep momentum, the Tommies attempted an onside kick that was recovered by the T-Birds. In great field position, the T-Birds were able to add to their lead with a field goal by Pettit, making it 31-13.

Fourth Quarter 

To start the drive, Miller found Ta’ase for a 26-yard gain; on the very next play, he connected with Wooden for their second touchdown of the night, putting the game almost out of reach at 38-13. 

After a couple dead-end drives for both sides, the T-Birds found themselves back on defense. With nine minutes left, T-Bird cornerback Davin Wilson intercepted the Tommies for the second time. Miller led the T-Birds into the endzone with a rushing touchdown of his own. Despite making every other kick, Pettit missed the point after the attempt. 

SUU held on to win 44-13.

Keys to Victory

Coach Fitzgerald stated, “He (Miller) knows our offense better than half our coaching staff does. He is a bright young man.”

The T-Birds’ prolific passing attack was difficult for the Tommies to keep up with. Miller finished with 364 yards, four  touchdowns, and no turnovers. His primary targets were Wooden with two touchdowns and 142 yards, followed by Ta’ase’s touchdown and 96 yards. A greedy T-Bird defense forced four turnovers made up of two interceptions and two fumble recoveries.

Southern Utah University heads up north to take on the University of Utah at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 10, at 11:30 a.m.


Story by: Chevy Blackburn
Photo courtesy of SUU Athletics