Football puts on a showcase against the Wildcats

Southern Utah University football flew by the Abilene Christian University Wildcats 52-14 with an impressive all-around team victory. The win moved the Thunderbirds to a 3-5 overall record and a 2-2 record in the United Athletic Conference.

The Thunderbird defense was stout against ACU, forcing three interceptions returned for 83 yards and three sacks that pushed the Wildcats back 23 yards. 

“We finally put together a complete game,” said SUU head coach DeLane Fitzgerald. “We’ve now put together 10 straight quarters of decent offense. Our defense turned them over three times, which was the difference in the game today, and then our defense was able to shut them out in the second half.” 

The decent offense that Fitzgerald referred to tallied 482 yards, 308 of which came from the running game. Targhee Lambson put together a spectacular performance, receiving and rushing the ball effectively. He ran the ball for 101 yards and two touchdowns while hauling in three receptions for 21 yards and a touchdown. Braedon Wissler also picked up 84 yards running the ball and took two trips to the end zone.

Justin Miller had three touchdowns and racked up 174 passing yards, 119 of which were to Isaiah Wooden, who also found the end zone twice.    

“We started off sluggish on Tuesday,” Fitzgerald stated about the team’s mentality after a tough loss against Austin Peay State University. “So, there are adjustments each week, and you could see our guys on Tuesday thinking through their assignments and what they need to do to be successful on that play. I thought we were as good in the last three days of practice as we have been all year.” 

Those impressive practices translated to the field on Saturday. The commanding win by SUU drops ACU’s overall record to 4-4 and 2-2 in the UAC.   

First quarter
Neither team could move the ball and punted three straight drives until AJ Felton picked off a pass from ACU quarterback Maverick McIvor. The interception put SUU’s offense within striking distance, an opportunity Miller took as he found Wooden for a 14-yard touchdown pass. 

On the very next drive, Wildcat running back Jordon Vaughn earned eight yards on the first play and then broke off a 55-yard rushing touchdown. The score tied the game up at seven points each.

Second quarter
Southern Utah responded by piecing together a 75-yard drive that was topped off by a 10-yard receiving touchdown from Lambson. The Thunderbirds’ defense regained composure with back-to-back sacks by Kohner Cullimore and Anisi Purcell, forcing ACU to punt the ball.

A tremendous defensive stand was followed by an 81-yard drive that took SUU’s offense only three plays to score. Lambson broke off a 69-yard run on his second carry of the drive, followed by Wissler’s 6-yard touchdown run. Yet another score put SUU up 21-7 against the Wildcats.   

With momentum on their side, Thunderbird cornerback Tre Gola-Collard picked off McIvor for a second Southern Utah interception. SUU had excellent field position following the interception and started on ACU’s 19-yard line. In two plays, Lambson ran for 6 yards and punched it in for a 13-yard rushing touchdown the next play.

The following two drives ended with punts from both teams. Abilene Christian started to march the ball with less than a minute remaining in the first half. McIvor completed three consecutive passes before he found tight end Jed Castles for a 10-yard touchdown with 10 seconds left in the first half. 

Miller connected with Wooden over the middle of the field to put the Thunderbirds into a potential field goal position. While Reed Harris had a chance to make history with a 63-yard field goal, he came up short, and the missed field goal left the score at 28-14 going into the break. 

Third quarter
Southern Utah received the ball to start the second half but quickly punted to the Wildcats. Unfortunately for the Thunderbirds, Miller’s punt hit off the back of Wissler and gave ACU the ball near the 50-yard line. 

The Wildcats began the drive off slow and were rewarded 10 penalty yards due to a holding call on SUU’s Quadir Lockett-Smith. A few plays after that, McIvor threw his third interception of the game to Jordan Washington. Washington returned the pick 32 yards before being brought down at ACU’s 32-yard line. 

Jordan Jefferson earned 15 yards in two rushes and picked up an SUU first down. Marching in two plays later was Wissler for his second rushing touchdown, which put SUU up 35-14.

ACU began the following drive with a couple of chunk plays to pick up a first down, but SUU held the Wildcats to a three-and-out in the next four plays. The Thunderbirds started at their own 40-yard line and marched down the field in eight plays. Wooden blew by two defenders to seal the drive with a 25-yard touchdown reception, which gave SUU a commanding 42-14 lead. 

The Wildcats could not pick up a first down and even lost yards due to a false start penalty on everyone but the center. The drive ended with a punt due to another three-and-out from ACU. 

Fourth quarter
The Thunderbird offense was nearly unstoppable. Another methodical nine-play drive ended in a touchdown from Lambson, giving him three touchdowns for a hat trick on the evening. 

With a score of 49-14, ACU tried their best to get anything positive going on the offensive side of the ball. However, they found themselves punting the ball after just three plays.

Southern Utah started with the ball at their own 12-yard line and put together a lengthy nine-minute drive. With such a big lead, SUU was starting to showcase its depth. Quarterbacks Grady Robinson and Jackson Berry took a few snaps, while freshman running back Cade Bowring marked his first touches of the season out of the backfield. Harris finished the drive with a 27-yard field goal that put SUU up 52-14.

ACU gained a few positive plays down the stretch but did not reach the end zone before the time expired. The Thunderbird defense held the Wildcat offense to a second-half shutout, allowing no scores within the 30 minutes of game time. 

Up next
The Thunderbirds will stay put next week as the Lincoln University Oaklanders travel to Cedar City for senior night. Kickoff will be on Saturday, Nov. 4, at 1 p.m. and can be streamed on ESPN+. 

Author: Chevy Blackburn
Photographer: Anden Garfield
Editor: Anden Garfield