From 2012 to 2021, Southern Utah University athletics flew high in the Big Sky Conference with multiple championship wins, notably in 2015 with football and in the 2020-2021 men’s basketball regular season conference championship. On Jan. 14, 2021, SUU announced the move to the WAC with this year being the first year as an athletic member. The WAC has 13 members and six football teams, allowing new and old foes alike to emerge from the shadows.
Perhaps the newest rivalry is one that isn’t all that new. Utah Tech University in St.George, formerly known as Dixie State University, has battled SUU in a contest of reputation for years. Both universities have four mens’ and seven womens’ athletic programs in common. This time, the stakes are even higher with Utah Tech and Southern Utah both competing in the Western Athletic Conference.
Southern Utah football has the first opportunity to strike on Saturday, Sept. 24, at the Eccles Coliseum. After the tailgate at 3 p.m., kickoff will start the rivalry game at 6 p.m. If the Thunderbirds win, they have the chance to start 1-0 in the WAC.
The last time SUU started 1-0 in conference play was in 2016.
The dynamic between the two teams has changed since the last time they faced off, at the time SUU was and still is a Division One program and then-Dixie State was a Division Two program . In 2010, the Thunderbirds faced off against the Trailblazers, resulting in a 52-0 win for SUU. The year before in 2009, the Thunderbirds beat then-Dixie State 36-7. Over 10 thousand fans packed Eccles Coliseum for the matchup in 2009. At the time, the Thunderbirds were members of the Great West Conference, and the Trailblazers were in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference.
This year, the Thunderbirds enter this matchup with two wins and one loss during the season, coming off a 17-10 win over Western Illinois University. SUU receiver Isaiah Wooden has been the focal point of the offense with eight receptions for 226 yards and three touchdowns, the third touchdown being the walk-off winner against Western Illinois with 33 seconds left in regulation. Wooden is tied 13th in the nation for receiving touchdowns.
The Thunderbird defense has stepped up their game in creating turnovers this season, currently tied for first in the country in recovered fumbles and seventh nationally in interceptions.
The Trailblazers are coming off a 44-10 loss to in-state competitor Weber State University on Sept. 17. The team is led by quarterback Kobe Tracy, who has already racked up 952 passing yards and seven touchdowns over the course of the past three games.
Joey Hobert has been Tracy’s favorite target on the season with 458 receiving yards and four touchdowns on 26 receptions.
Saturday’s game will be the first between Utah Tech and Southern Utah this season in a home-and-away series. Their second game will be later on in the season at Greater Zion Stadium in St. George, Utah.
Fans can watch online on ESPN+.
Article by: Anthony Colasuono
Photo courtesy of SUU Athletics