The Thunderbirds refused to go quietly during Saturday night’s 42-40 home loss to Tarleton State. Though the game started slow, it did not lack for excitement as both teams battled it out for four quarters.
The Thunderbirds got the ball to start the game but could not move it and were forced to punt on the opening drive. The Texans gave the ball right back to the Thunderbirds after a short drive of their own. The entire first quarter elapsed without either team grabbing hold of the lead, but with 29 seconds left, Torion White intercepted a errant pass from Tarleton quarterback Beau Allen. This would be the lone turnover in the game for the Thunderbirds,who entered the game leading FCS in turnover margin.
The second quarter began much like the first. Southern Utah started with the ball deep in their own territory and failed to earn a first down, but a booming punt by Jake Gerardi traveled 73 yards before going out of bounds at the Tarleton 20. The Texan offense began moving the ball but turned it back over to the Thunderbirds after failing to complete a short pass on fourth and two at the SUU 28. Justin Miller found Steve Jenkins for a big 17-yard pass, and while it looked as though the Thunderbirds were ready to put the ball into the end zone, the drive abruptly stalled. Micah Petit came on to kick a 35- yard field goal that gave Southern Utah the first lead of the game.
Tarleton bounced right back, moving the ball on their next drive into Thunderbird territory before encountering another fourth and short situation. In this instance, the Texans took a timeout to dial up the perfect play, and it worked as Allen found Gabe Douglas for a 48-yard touchdown pass. The Thunderbirds fell even further behind when the next Tarleton drive went for another touchdown on a 48-yard pass from Allen to Darius Cooper.
Not wanting to go into the half down two scores, the Southern Utah offense completed three straight passing plays. The first two went to Jenkins for a total of 45 yards. The final play of the drive was a 22-yard pass to Isaiah Williams for the touchdown, making the halftime score 14-10.
The Texans took the opening drive of the second half 75 yards, finishing with a one-yard touchdown run by Mookie Douglas. Looking to put the game back to within a single score, the Thunderbirds took the next drive 45 yards. When the drive stalled, Southern Utah once again turned to the leg of Petit, who put the 49-yard attempt through the uprights.
The next Tarleton drive took only three plays to go 75 yards for the score, capped off with a one-yard touchdown run by Cody Henderson. The Thunderbirds went three and out in the next drive and gave the ball back to the Texans. The Tarleton State offense wasted no time in taking the ball back down the field to extend the largest lead of the night on a 67-yard touchdown pass to Cooper.
Southern Utah opened the fourth quarter down 35-13, but a quick four play 75-yard touchdown drive culminated in a 55-yard touchdown run by Isaiah Williams. The Thunderbirds struck again on their next drive when Miller ran in a touchdown from two yards out to make the score 35-27. After another defensive stop, an errant pass from Miller on the next drive led to a pick-six for the Texans, pushing the lead back to two scores with just over four minutes left to play.
Southern Utah started the next drive with little room for error, needing two scores and a stop in between. The Thunderbirds moved the ball 75 yards on the ensuing drive, capping it off with an 18-yard touchdown pass from Miller to Jenkins. The Texans’ drive would start with just over two and a half minutes to go, but the Thunderbird defense stepped up and got the necessary stop, not allowing Tarleton to move the ball and securing the offense another opportunity to tie the game.
Miller and the two-minute offense got the ball on their own 41-yard line to start the drive. The first play was a huge 50-yard pass to Isaiah Wooden. Williams then finished the drive on a pair of short runs up the middle. Trailing 42-40, the Thunderbirds needed a two-point conversion in order to tie the game, but Miller’s pass was broken up near the back of the endzone. “We ran our best two-point conversion … We’ve got a rub for the flat, and we have a guy dragging across the middle,” said coach Fitzgerald. “Justin decided to take the guy in the back of the end zone, dragging across the middle, and it just got tipped. The linebacker was able to get his hands on it and bust the play up.”
The excitement wasn’t done, though, as the onside kick attempt by Jake Gerardi was recovered by the Thunderbirds and the offense went back out onto the field. On the very next play, however, Miller threw a deep ball over the middle that was intercepted, sealing the Texan victory.
Miller finished the game with 32 completions on 46 attempts. The quarterback had 383 yards through the air with two passing touchdowns, and he added a rushing touchdown of his own. Williams had 120 all-purpose yards and three total touchdowns. Jenkins had an impressive game, catching six passes for 103 yards.Wooden had 107 yards, receiving on five catches. Braedon Wissler got the start today at running back and had nine carries for 54 yards while catching seven passes for 28 yards.
The Thunderbird defense was once again anchored by freshman linebacker Kohner Cullimore, who tallied eight tackles, including a sack. Aubrey Nellems added a pair of tackles for a loss, and Cody Coleman had a couple of pass break-ups. Josh Dunn and Rodrick Ward added five tackles each.
“[I’m] proud of our kids for continuing to play and believe in each other, but the proud thing has to stop at a certain point. We had a chance to win the football game,” said coach Fizgerald. “For as poorly as we played for three quarters, we played well enough in the fourth quarter to win the football game and just didn’t.”
The Thunderbirds now sit at 3-3 on the season and will travel to Abilene Christian University next week to continue WAC play.
Story by: Regan Hunsaker
Photos by: SUU Athletics