Thunderbird defense shines against UC Davis despite loss

On Saturday, Sept. 16, the Southern Utah University Thunderbirds traveled to UC Davis Health Stadium in Yolo County, California, to take on the No. 16-ranked Football Championship Subdivision team the University of California, Davis Aggies in a non-conference game.

First quarter
The Thunderbirds started with the ball to open the game, but things quickly went south as, on the first offensive play of the game, senior quarterback Justin Miller threw an interception to junior linebacker Teddye Buchanan. This almost immediately gave possession to the Aggies at the SUU 22-yard line.

This unfortunate series of events didn’t shake the Thunderbirds’ defense, and they forced the Aggies to settle for a field goal.

On the next series, SUU was forced to punt by a strong Aggie defense, which set UC Davis up at the SUU 38.

The Aggies would go on to drive into the red zone, but it was there that the Thunderbirds embraced a “bend, don’t break” mentality, forcing the Aggies again to settle for a field goal.

Second quarter
The second quarter was strictly a defensive struggle, as both offenses combined for five punts.

The Thunderbirds went into halftime facing a 6-0 deficit.

Third quarter
UC Davis started the second half receiving the ball and quickly took advantage of that, working their way methodically down the field through an effective passing attack led by junior quarterback Miles Hastings. The Thunderbirds’ defense again showed its grit, stopping the 

Aggies on the one-yard line and forcing a turnover on downs.

Taking over on their own one-yard line, SUU wasn’t able to get an offensive rhythm going and was quickly forced to punt.

UC Davis started their second drive of the half at the 50-yard line and quickly marched down the field, capping the drive off with a 14-yard touchdown pass. Hastings threw to junior tight end Josh Gale off a fake quarterback sneak on fourth down and successfully converted the extra point to put the Aggies up 13-0 over the Thunderbirds.

SUU, refusing to go down without a fight, quickly answered with a long drive of their own, aided by wide receivers freshman Zack Mitchell and senior Tim Patrick Jr. They combined for 61 of the 71 yards of the drive, which ended with a touchdown pass from Miller to senior wide receiver Isaiah Wooden, pulling the Thunderbirds within one touchdown.

Fourth quarter
Both offenses came alive in the fourth, starting with UC Davis’ Hastings connecting on a screen pass to junior running back Lan Larison for a 73-yard touchdown, putting them up 20-7.

Not wanting the game to be put out of reach, the Thunderbirds responded with their own long touchdown. Miller found Wooden on a screen pass, leading to a 66-yard touchdown to bring them back into the game only down six.

After both teams punted the ball away on the following drives, UC Davis went on a 58-yard drive, finding themselves in a familiar position deep within SUU territory. Again, the Thunderbirds’ defense shined as they held the Aggies to only a field goal, making it 23-14 in favor of the Aggies.

Needing to respond quickly, the Thunderbirds entered their hurry-up offense and worked down the field, capping off a 75-yard drive with a 13-yard touchdown pass from Miller to Mitchell, pulling the Thunderbirds within two.

It all came down to an onside kick, but SUU was unable to recover, allowing UC Davis to run down the clock and come away with the 23-21 victory over the Thunderbirds.

Next up
After a three-game road trip, SUU will finally return to Cedar City for their home opener against the Southern Illinois University Leatherbacks on Saturday, Sept. 23, at 6 p.m. The game can be streamed on ESPN+.

Story by: Aidan Mortensen
Photo by: SUU Athletics