Despite offensive success, football falls short in double-overtime shootout

Southern Utah University football suffered a tough 48-45 United Athletic Conference loss in the second overtime period against the Austin Peay State University Governors. Now sitting at a 2-5 overall record and a 1-2 UAC record, the Thunderbirds impressed on offense regardless of the loss, racking up 561 total yards through success in both passing and running the football.

Quarterback Justin Miller threw three touchdown passes, locking down the record for most career touchdown passes in SUU history. Backup quarterback Grady Robison also capitalized on his snaps on the field by scoring two long touchdowns.

“[Robison] is a great addition to the team. He brings things that I can’t do on the field,” Miller said. “He’s wicked fast and has a cannon of an arm, which compliments what I can do pretty well.”

Meanwhile, the Thunderbird ground game looked the best it has all season, with the team totaling 223 rushing yards.

Although the team struggled defensively, head coach DeLane Fitzgerald was proud of this rushing improvement. He shared that the key to this success was “effort and attitude. [It took] a mindset and a mentality that we’re going to be stern up front and get off the ball and push people around … We started to see our run game take form.”

The game marks the fourth heartbreaking one-score game that the Thunderbirds have lost this year. However, the Governors are a tough team that was ranked No. 24 in the Football Championship Subdivision going into this week, and SUU put together a respectable fight against them.

APSU leaped up the standings to 5-2 with an undefeated conference record of 2-0. Although Southern Utah managed to clamp down on them in the first half, their passing attack was extremely difficult to contain throughout the rest of the game.

First quarter
The momentum swung back and forth in the first quarter, with SUU’s defense standing strong on Austin Peay’s first drive. Miller then spread the ball around on offense and scored a touchdown thanks to a clean pass to tight end Chase Merrell.

The Governors bounced back with a 23-yard rushing touchdown by running back Jevon Jackson. Thunderbird Alyas Vigil punted within the 20-yard line to sophomore Kam Thomas, who weaved his way upfield for an 83-yard returning touchdown to put Austin Peay up 14-7 at the close of the quarter.

Second quarter
Between a second-quarter shutout and an explosion on offense, SUU finally got their first-half performance on track after several rough starts this season.

The Thunderbirds’ first opportunity drained APSU’s energy, capping off a methodical drive with a short touchdown run by running back Braedon Wissler. The SUU defense followed up by forcing a three-and-out.

It seemed that the Thunderbirds lost their momentum on the next drive with three failed attempts to convert. However, on a tricky fake punt, running back Jordan Jefferson escaped for a gain to keep SUU on the field. Coming off the sidelines, Robison capitalized on the opportunity to show off his wheels with a 73-yard untouched rushing touchdown.

A third-down sack by linebackers Aubrey Nellems and Kohner Cullimore forced a Governor punt. On the Governors’ next drive, the SUU defense stepped up again with an impressive AJ Felton interception.

Southern Utah’s Robison flashed again in the final play of the half with no time on the clock due to a big penalty on Austin Peay. He connected with Gabe Nunez on an incredible 47-yard Hail Mary, marking his first passing touchdown as a Thunderbird and extending the score to 28-14.

Third quarter
SUU started the second half fast. Miller tore up the defense with huge passing gains to Nunez and Timothy Patrick Jr. A quick touchdown strike from Miller to Isaiah Wooden boosted their lead. 

Austin Peay, however, flipped the script on Southern Utah, scoring touchdowns on two straight drives while holding the Thunderbirds to nothing on offense for the rest of the quarter to put the score at 35-28.

Fourth quarter
Straight out of the gate, the Governors spiced up their offense with a tricky reverse where wide receiver Trey Goodman passed to his fellow receiver Tre Shackelford for a 53-yard touchdown over the top to tie the game.

With a little over two minutes left on the clock, Governor quarterback Mike DiLiello bolted away with his second rushing touchdown of the night.

As time wound down, Miller pieced together a fast-paced drive that he finished off with a touchdown pass to Joshua Acord to tie the game at 42-42. It also set a new career record of 62 for most passing touchdowns by a Thunderbird.

SUU’s Felton reeled in his second interception to give the Thunderbirds the advantage in overtime. Only needing the field goal to seal the game, Southern Utah’s Tyler Graham doinked a 42-yard kick off the left upright after a bad snap and hold, sending the game into a second overtime period so each team could get another crack at scoring.

A sack by APSU’s Jau’von Young forced another field goal attempt from SUU. Graham redeemed himself, putting the Thunderbirds up 45-42. On the Governors’ final drive of the game, though, DiLiello sealed up his win with an eight-yard touchdown toss to Goodman.

Next up
Southern Utah will receive another shot to lock in their first UAC win on Saturday, Oct. 28, when the 4-3 Abilene Christian University Wildcats come knocking on the gates of Eccles Coliseum.

“We’ll find out what we’re made of now. We’ll find out what our young men and our football team is made of going forward now,” Fitzgerald said. “Can we rebound? Can we have some intestinal fortitude and some stick-to-it-iveness? Can we have some mental toughness and rebound from this and play well next week? We have a lot of season left.”

The game will kick off at 1 p.m. and can be streamed via ESPN+.

Author: Kale Nelson
Photographer: Anden Garfield
Editor: Anden Garfield