The atmosphere was electric at Eccles Coliseum on Saturday, Nov. 4, as the Southern Utah University football team held senior night against Division II foe Lincoln University. Despite some first-half struggles, Southern Utah came away with the 35-6 win.
Thunderbird head coach DeLane Fitzgerald was suspended for the game due to NCAA recruiting violations, so in his stead was linebacker coach Shay McClure.
It was a slow first quarter for the two teams, as both struggled to get anything going offensively. A combined four punts left both teams tied at zero at the end of the quarter.
The second quarter opened up with a stalled drive from the Thunderbirds that led to a punt. The Oaklanders capitalized on this, driving down the field and scoring off a quarterback keeper from TJ Goodwin. A failed two-point conversion put the score at 6-0.
On the resulting kickoff, the Thunderbirds fumbled the ball, giving Lincoln possession and an excellent starting position. The Thunderbird defense tightened up and forced a turnover on downs to get the ball back.
The Thunderbirds took over at their own 19-yard line, but disaster quickly struck as senior quarterback Justin Miller threw an interception on the first play of the drive, giving the Oaklanders possession yet again.
The defense came up big, with freshman Mason Stromstad picking off a pass from Goodwin and giving Southern Utah one more chance to score before the half.
Score they did, working 95 yards down the field in the final two minutes and ending the drive with a 27-yard rushing touchdown from sophomore running back Braedon Wissler. After converting the extra point, the Thunderbirds entered halftime with a 7-6 lead.
The Thunderbirds came alive to start the second half, taking only two plays and 44 seconds to score. The strike was delivered by Miller to senior Isaiah Wooden for a 58-yard touchdown.
The Southern Utah defense forced a quick three-and-out against the Oaklanders, giving Miller and the offense possession. The senior-to-senior connection struck again when Miller found Wooden for a 45-yard touchdown, increasing the Thunderbirds’ lead to 21-6.
Minutes later, the Thunderbirds again, this time off a quarterback keeper from Miller, giving him his third total touchdown on the day and the Thunderbirds the 28-6 advantage.
The fourth quarter returned to the standard pattern of the game for both teams after an explosive third quarter. Both defenses held strong until the Thunderbirds forced a fumble at the Lincoln 17-yard line, setting the Southern Utah offense up with an excellent field position. They capitalized on this opportunity in just three plays; senior running back Landon Freeman broke off a five-yard run for the touchdown to increase the Thunderbird lead to 35-6.
The defense held strong and so did the score, giving the Thunderbirds the win. With the victory, Southern Utah moves to 4-5 overall and 2-2 in conference play. The loss brings the Oaklanders to 0-11 on the season.
Senior linebacker Aubrey Nellems spoke about the first half struggles, saying, “We started slow. It wasn’t a schematic thing, we were all in the right places, but come third down, fourth down situations, penalties were killing us.”
Southern Utah now looks for a road showdown next week on Saturday, Nov. 11, when they take on Stephen F. Austin in Nacogdoches, Texas. Kickoff is set for 3 p.m. MST, and the game can be streamed on ESPN+.
Author: Aidan Mortensen
Photographer: Anden Garfield
Editor: Anden Garfield