An emphatic 27-point second half seals the win for SUU

Southern Utah University traveled to Stephenville, Texas, for a United Athletic Conference matchup against Tarleton State University and won in a 27-26 thriller. 

This marks both the Thunderbirds’ first road win of the year and their first win in the UAC. While both teams are now 1-1 in conference play, Southern Utah moves to 2-4 overall on the season, while the Texans drop to 4-2. 

First half
The Thunderbirds started the game with the ball and instantly started to feed wide receiver Isaiah Wooden. Southern Utah gained a first down after back-to-back touches from Wooden and a run from Braedon Wissler, but the drive ended abruptly when Justin Miller threw an interception to Texan defensive back Kasyus Kurns. 

Tarleton State started with the ball at the Thunderbirds’ 47-yard line. After three plays, the Texans found themselves up 7-0 after Victor Gabalis threw a dart to Jaden Smith, who made an acrobatic catch. 

Miller responded during the next drive with a big throw under pressure to his tight end Fransisco Calderon, who fought for the extra yards but was short of the first down. SUU threw a short pass to Wooden on fourth down that was not enough for the Thunderbirds to convert.

Texan running backs Caleb Lewis and Kayvon Britten combined for 33 yards in two plays, quickly moving Tarleton State into Southern Utah territory. The Texans continued to march the ball methodically into the red zone as the first quarter came to an end. A 35-yard field goal gave the Texans a 10-0 lead after two quick drives down the field.

Southern Utah began their second drive off well and picked up a fresh set of downs after a couple chunk runs from Wissler. Targhee Lamson fumbled the very next play, but he was able to recover it himself. After no gain on the previous play, SUU was forced to go for it again on fourth down. Miller attempted a short pass to Gabe Nunez but could not connect to pick up the first down.

Tarleton State was able to offensively capitalize on Southern Utah’s misfortunes with another field goal from Guzman, this time from 40 yards out to put the Texans up 13-0.

Southern Utah started the next drive with a three-yard run from Wissler and first down pass to Joshua Acord. Miller then connected with Zach Mitchell and Isaiah Wooden to earn another first down, but when the Thunderbirds were able to find some rhythm, Miller took a sack from Kyle Taylor and lost 10 yards on the play. SUU was only able to gain back the 10 yards they lost and ended up punting the ball back.  

Britten picked up 19 yards in three plays and continued to dominate the ground game for Tarleton State. Gabalis launched the ball to Tucker Swoboda on third and six to pick up the first down. Britten followed that with an 11-yard touchdown run to get himself on the board.  

This put the Texans up 20-0, and SUU entered the locker room scoreless for the first time this season.

Second half
The Thunderbird defense came alive and forced three tackles for loss in a row. Two of the tackles for loss came in the form of sacks from Anisi Purcell and Rylen Sua-Filo, which forced Tarleton State to punt for the first time. 

Wooden made a 30-yard return off Tayvis Coleman’s punt to put SUU in great field position. The Thunderbirds earned a first down on a 12-yard pass to Nunez but quickly turned the ball over on downs after that. 

Southern Utah’s defense, not about to let up, forced a quick three and out against Tarleton State’s offense. 

Lamson headed the drive with a short 1-yard gain, which was followed by a 4-yard catch from Mitchell and first down reception by Wooden. Miller took a shot over the middle to Anson Kraut, who rumbled in for SUU’s first touchdown of the night. With seven points on the board, the Thunderbirds had all of the movement, and it showed as their defense forced another three and out. 

With the offense back on the field, Southern Utah earned a first down right away after a 10-yard run from Wissler. Two plays later, it was Wooden hauling in another first down reception that was followed up by a 31-yard catch from Tim Patrick Jr. 

The Thunderbirds were rolling. Miller was able to connect with Acord for a 35-yard gain, and two plays later, Miller found Patrick Jr. for a 5-yard touchdown catch. In one quarter, SUU was able to score 14 unanswered points and cut the lead to just six points.  

Tarleton State’s offense finally settled in and was able to earn a new set of downs, continuing to march the ball into SUU territory with a balanced attack. Lewis capped the 10-play drive off with an 8-yard touchdown run that put TSU up 26-14.

Southern Utah began to march down the field again and got to Tarleton State’s 32-yard line before their offense stalled and the Texans forced SUU into their fourth turnover on downs. 

Britten began with a big 24-yard run that was followed by a penalty on TSU. This made it first and 20 yards to go for the Texans, but they were not able to pick a new set of downs and punted the ball. 

Quarterback Grady Robison subbed in for a reach option and fumbled his handoff to Wissler on the first play, but Wissler was able to recover the ball. The very next play, Patrick Jones was ejected for Tarleton State after making a defenseless hit on Wissler that rewarded SUU with 15 penalty yards. Miller found Lamson for a 12-yard touchdown pass while being flushed out of the pocket. 

With the score 26-21 in favor of the Texans, Southern Utah had to force a punt or turnovers by Tarleton State. The Thunderbirds did that and then some. Trevon Gola-Collard forced Britten to fumble, and it was taken back for a touchdown by Josh Lopez. 

This put SUU up 27-26, but head coach DeLane Fitzgerald attempted a two-point conversion to make it a three-point game. Unfortunately, Wissler was unable to convert on a short pass from Miller. 

Southern Utah’s defense backed Tarleton State up on offense. Without giving up an inch, the Thunderbirds forced the Texans into a turnover on downs. A defensive hands-to-the-face penalty sealed the Texans’ fate as SUU ran the clock out. 

Key stats
— Trevon Gola-Collard forced the game-winning fumble that was recovered for a touchdown by Josh Lopez.
— Isaiah Wooden ended with 10 receptions and 48 yards. He also stepped up on third downs and big moments throughout the game.
— Justin Miller threw for three touchdowns and one interception while completing an astonishing 76% of his passes. Miller also distributed the ball well and connected with nine different targets.
— SUU struggled to contain TSU’s running backs but was able to hold Victor Balais to 152 yards, one touchdown and a completion percentage of 42%. 

Up next
The Thunderbirds will have a bye week before hosting Austin Peay State University in the Eccles Coliseum. The game will be on Saturday, Oct. 21, at 6 p.m. MDT and can be streamed on ESPN+. 

Author: Chevy Blackburn
Photos courtesy of SUU Athletics