RICHMOND, Ky – Saturday night’s road game was a back-and-forth battle for the Thunderbirds. Southern Utah played well against a talented team in Eastern Kentucky but eventually fell to the Colonels 35-28. Despite some big plays, neither team was able to grab momentum in this game where there was never more than a one score lead.
The Thunderbirds received the opening kick but were unable to move the ball in their first drive and were forced to punt after just three plays. Despite a booming punt by Jake Gerardi, Eastern Kentucky wasted no time taking the ball seventy yards. The drive culminated with a two-yard touchdown run by quarterback, Parker McKinney.
The Thunderbirds looked like they were in prime position to answer, but the drive stalled just before the red zone as a Micah Petit forty-one-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left. After a huge fourth down defensive stop, the T-Birds the offense took over on downs at their own thirty-six-yard line. Just as the first quarter expired Southern Utah moved into Eastern Kentucky territory when Justin Miller escaped the pocket to find Isaiah Wooden for a twenty-one-yard pass.
Just a few plays into the second quarter, running back Joe Davis tied the game at seven with a five-yard touchdown run that featured the sheer strength of the transfer running back from Colorado. The Colonels once again turned to McKinney to finish their own seventy-five-yard drive with a short touchdown run.
Southern Utah bounced right back though and after a big thirty-six-yard rush by Bobby Cole and a quick fifteen-yard pass to Ethan Bolingbroke the offense found themselves in close striking distance. The T-Bird drive was capped off with a one-yard touchdown pass from Justin Miller to Steve Jenkins.
With the score even at fourteen, Eastern Kentucky moved the ball down the field relying on the passing game and some good outside blocking from their receivers. McKinney finished the seventy-five-yard drive with his third, two-yard touchdown run of the game. The Colonels would take the one score lead into the locker room at halftime.
In the third quarter both teams got stopped on their initial drives but the second offensive series for Southern Utah was set off when Miller found a wide-open Jenkins for a forty-three-yard completion. A diabolical hit on Jenkins led to a targeting penalty on the play and brought the Southern Utah offense inside the twenty-yard line. Isaiah Wooden finished the drive for the T-Birds on a nine-yard sweep for the touchdown.
The Colonels answered quickly with a thirty-four-yard touchdown pass from McKinney to Braedon Sloan finishing the third quarter once again with a seven-point lead.
The fourth quarter began on a quick screen play to Isaiah Williams who scampered nineteen yards to even the score at twenty-eight. The Thunderbirds defense picked up a big stop but after a good punt and some penalty yards the offense was forced to begin the next drive from inside their own twenty-five-yard line. Miller completed passes all the way down the field but the drive stalled at the EKU twenty-four-yard line and the Colonels got the ball back after another missed field goal. Eastern Kentucky was able to capitalize on the ensuing drive when Sloan rushed twenty-seven yards to the endzone for what would end up being the deciding touchdown.
The Thunderbirds would finish the game with a season high one hundred and sixty-three yards on the ground. Miller added two hundred and fifty-one yards of passing and a couple of touchdowns to the cause. Coach DeLane Fitzgerald said of the offense, “a lot of the credit for tonight needs to go to our offensive line. Over a three-hour period, the line controlled them, our guys up front were pretty good tonight.”
Leading the Southern Utah defensive effort was Tre Caine who had one interception and seven tackles on the day. Kohner Cullimore once again stepped up from the linebacking group with nine tackles and a nine-yard sack. Quadir Lockett-Smith added six solo tackles from the cornerback position as well.
Coach Fitzgerald said of the game, “There are no moral victories in this game… we have to learn to finish a tight one like that, when it comes down to the fourth quarter you have to do everything you have done for the first three quarters but you have to do it better and that is what we need to learn from this one.”
The Thunderbirds will look to build off this game as they return to Cedar City for a home contest next week against conference foe Tarleton State. That game will kick off at 6:00 PM MT.
Story by: Parker Haynie
Photos by: SUU Athletics