NACOGDOCHES, Texas — The Thunderbirds took care of business in Texas on Saturday defeating Stephen F. Austin 45-17. Southern Utah started slow in the contest, but as the sun went down the momentum built for the Thunderbirds scoring 35 points in the second half.

The win brings the T-Birds season record to an even 5-5.  

The Southern Utah University mascot Thor and students, Cedar City, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Southern Utah University, St. George News

“We looked like a team that traveled halfway across the country in the first half but we came out of the locker room wanting it more than they did,” Thunderbird Head Coach DeLane Fitzgerald said. “At the half, our coaches challenged the team to prove that they love football more than the guy across the line from them.” 

The first quarter was a back-and-forth battle of defensive prowess with neither offense able to move that ball significantly. The Thunderbirds struck first with a field goal from 34 yards out. The three-pointer would be the only score in the opening period. 

Stephen F. Austin would knot the game up early in the second quarter with a 42-yard field goal. The teams would stalemate for the majority of the period however SFA looked to have a good drive going bringing the ball into the red zone before a big sack by the Thunderbirds pushed them back out.

The Lumberjacks would attempt a field goal but it hit the post falling wide left. The T-Bird offense would respond marching 69 yards in 10 plays to score. The drive was capped off when Miller found Isaiah Woodenon a 25-yard touchdown pass with just 20 seconds remaining in the half. 

Second half

The SUU Thunderbirds took care of business on the road defeating Stephen F. Austin 45-17 in Nacogdoches, Texas, Nov. 11, 2023 | Photo courtesy of SUU Athletic Communications, St. George News

The Thunderbirds stopped SFA on its opening drive of the half. It took just two plays for Miller to find Wooden for his second touchdown of the game, making the score 17-3. The Thunderbirds would add on by scoring again on their next drive when Miller hit Wooden for another 38-yard touchdown pass.

The Thunderbirds entered the last quarter with a 24-3 lead. Southern Utah would add when Miller connected with Wooden for their fourth combined touchdown of the game. The Lumberjacks would answer with a touchdown of their own to make the score 31-10.

Southern Utah would not be stopped though as after a failed onside kick attempt Braedon Wissler would scamper in from 30 yards out to extend the lead. An interception by George Ramirez on the next SFA drive would lead to Cade Bowring getting his first career rushing touchdown for the Thunderbirds. Down 45-10 the Lumberjacks would get a final touchdown in under the wire to make the final score 45-17. 

Offensive leaders

The offensive leaders for the Thunderbirds put up an impressive performance. Justin Miller completed 13 of his 19 passing attempts, accumulating 223 passing yards and throwing four touchdowns. His top receiver in the game was Isaiah Wooden who caught five passes for 123 yards and four touchdowns. Zach Mitchell and Gabe Nunez each added 26 yards receiving as well.

Southern Utah University players before their home game against Utah Tech, Cedar City, Utah, Sept. 24, 2022 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

On the ground, The Thunderbirds had a big game rushing for 281 yards. Braedon Wissler led the T-Birds with 107 yards on 17 attempts and one touchdown. Targhee Lambson added 67 yards to the offensive effort as well. Freshman running back Cade Bowring picked up his first rushing touchdown as a Thunderbird. 

Defensive playmakers

In the game against the Lumberjacks Southern Utah’s defense was a total team effort. Kohner Cullimore led the way in tackles, recording 7 total. Aubrey Nellems wasn’t far behind with 6 takedowns. Robert Horsey and Julian Sanderlin registered three tackles each in the game. The Defensive line finished three sacks in the contest. 

In addition to the huge effort by the front seven, George Ramirez impacted the defense significantly. Ramirez picked up two total tackles, a pass breakup, and an interception. The Thunderbirds’ defense played very well holding the Lumberjacks to just 22  rushing yards.  

Up Next:

The Thunderbirds will head out on the road again next week to take on Utah Tech in the Battle for the Axe. The game will be on Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023. Kickoff is set for 5 p.m. Mountain Time in St. George.

Written by Regan Hunsaker, SUU Athletic Communications.

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