The Southern Utah University football team dominated the fourth quarter, pulling away from the Western Illinois University Leathernecks to lock in a 37-17 homecoming win. This first victory of the season boosted the Thunderbirds to a 1-3 record before United Athletic Conference play, while WIU fell to 0-4.
On defense, SUU squeezed three turnovers out of Leatherback quarterback Matt Morrissey, who hadn’t thrown an interception or lost a fumble all season.
Southern Utah’s quarterback spread the ball around, with three receivers gaining over 60 yards. Backup running back Targhee Lambson pounded in two touchdowns for an impressive performance as “Sub of the Game.”
The Thunderbirds started the game off strong, taking their first drive 54 yards down the field for a 31-yard field goal by Tyler Graham. Shortly after, SUU’s Rylen Sua-Filo recovered a bad snap, marking Morrissey’s first turnover of the year.
Southern Utah quarterback Justin Miller quickly capitalized on the occasion, throwing a 10-yard touchdown pass to freshman Zack Mitchell. After holding WIU to a three-and-out, the Thunderbird offense once again drove the field. Despite a clean drive, they couldn’t seal the deal, throwing an interception in the red zone.
After being held to a shutout in the first quarter, the Leathernecks turned things around, matching the Thunderbirds’ energy and stealing the momentum.
Sua-Filo once again disrupted Western Illinois play by teaming up with Julian Sanderlin to sack Morrissey and force a field goal from Leatherneck kicker Owen Valek. SUU pulled further ahead with a two-yard touchdown run by Lambson.
Morrissey answered back with a 44-yard touchdown score to Jaylin Jackson. The Leathernecks followed up with a strong defensive stand and another touchdown on the ground courtesy of Ludovich Choquette. With the game tied at 17-17, both offenses stalled to send the game to halftime.
The third quarter got off to a very slow start with the tied score remaining until late in the third when an interception by Lacarea Pleasant-Johnson set the Thunderbirds up for another touchdown run by Lambson.
Putting a deadly drive together, Morrissey nearly tied the game again, but a red zone interception by Jordan Washington kept the Leathernecks off the board.
The rest of the game proved to be easy sledding for SUU, starting with an exhilarating 43-yard touchdown grab by Isaiah Wooden. Then, with the Leathernecks desperately throwing to pull the game back within reach, SUU’s Cody Coleman put an end to the game by running away with a 60-yard pick-six.
— The Thunderbirds’ front seven completely shut down the running game. They allowed only 21 rushing yards from WIU’s backfield. On top of that, they pressured Morrissey all night long, racking up five sacks for a Leatherneck loss of 38 yards. The intensity of the defense forced Morrissey to make some difficult throws that the defensive backfield took advantage of. Although SUU needs to clean up the defensive penalties before conference play, they looked like a very cohesive and capable unit. As they continue to build chemistry throughout the season, expect high-caliber play from Southern Utah on the defensive side of the ball.
— Mitchell and Wooden showed out yet again as a deadly one-two punch that has potential to terrorize defenses for the rest of the year. Mitchell pulled in six catches for 78 yards, and Wooden hauled in four for 60. Both managed to get to the end zone for a touchdown. Each week that both receivers are on the field, defenders will have to be cautious of the duo’s skill or pay the price.
— Only allowing one sack, the offensive line did a great job protecting Miller. With this great protection, however, Miller still threw two interceptions, one of them occurring in the red zone. For the Thunderbirds to compete in the UAC, he will need to tighten things up and not take unnecessary risks on tough throws.
On Saturday, Sept. 30, the Thunderbirds will host their first UAC opponent, the 2-2 University of Central Arkansas Bears, at 6 p.m.
Article by: Kale Nelson
Photos by: Anden Garfield