From SUU ATHLETIC STRATEGIC COMMUNICATION
CEDAR CITY- For the second time in three seasons, the Big Sky Championship and the Big Sky’s automatic berth to the FCS Playoffs will come down to the contest between the No. 14/18 Southern Utah Thunderbirds and the No. 23 Northern Arizona Lumberjacks, as the two will duke it out for the Hinton Burdick Grand Canyon Trophy.
Last Time Out
The Thunderbirds claimed their sixth-straight victory last Saturday, knocking off the Aggies of UC Davis on the road to move to 8-2 on the season and 6-1 in Big Sky Conference play.
Patrick Tyler had yet another incredible game for the Thunderbirds. He threw for 370 yards and three touchdowns on the evening. Jay Green Jr. stepped into the starting running back role, and broke into the end zone two different times over the course of the evening.
Ty Rutledge had a breakout game on Saturday. After not pulling in a touchdown pass before Saturday, Rutledge snagged three passes for 105 yards and two touchdowns against the Aggies. The Thunderbirds had 540 yards of offense against the Aggies.
Defensively, Jarmaine Doubs Jr. had a pick-six to get things going for the Thunderbirds. Oddly enough, it was an interception returned for a touchdown without any return yardage as he was able to jump the Aggie route in the endzone.
Tyler Collet led the team with 10 tackles, with Devin Guidry, Kyle Tauiliili and Mike Needham all finishing the game with four. Mitch Dalley had two tackles for loss and a sack, making a major impact in the Aggie backfield. Taelin Webb also secured the first interception of his career as a T-Bird.
The Thunderbird football team moved up to the No. 14 spot in the STATS FCS Top 25 on Monday, which is the highest ranking the team has ever reached in either of the two major FCS polls.
Previously the highest ranking the Thunderbirds had reached was No. 15 in the FCS Coaches Poll in 2015.
The Thunderbirds moved up one spot, receiving 1,823 votes. Three other teams from the Big Sky Conference were ranked in the STATS Poll, including No. 12 Weber State, No. 18 Eastern Washington and No. 23 Northern Arizona.
The Thunderbirds moved up one spot in the FCS Coaches Poll, climbing from the No. 19 spot to the No. 18 spot. The same four teams from the Big Sky (No. 9 Weber State, No. 20 Eastern Washington and No. 23 Northern Arizona) remained in the poll.
On Monday, Tyler was honored for his play against UC Davis by winning ROOT SPORTS Player of the Week from the Big Sky Conference.
Tyler led the Thunderbird offensive attack on Saturday, throwing for 370 yards and three touchdowns. That yardage came on 26 completions with a long of 75. Tyler also showed off his elusiveness on Saturday, consistently escaping from the pocket and making a play.
On the season Tyler has thrown for 2,429 yards on 204 completions. He’s also accounted for 23 total touchdowns, with 20 coming through the air and an additional three coming on the ground.
This is Tyler’s second recognition as Offensive Player of the Week. He received the first following his 414 yard, four touchdown performance against Stephen F. Austin.
Along with everything else, Saturday will also be Senior Day in Cedar City. Before Saturday’s contest, the Thunderbirds will be recognizing 17 players that have all made a significant impact on the team, the university and the community.
List of seniors to be recognized: Toa Afatasi, Logan Baker, Chance Bearnson, Keita Calhoun, Cameron Chambers, Tyler Collet, Mitch Dalley, Jarmaine Doubs Jr., Garrett Kovach, Michael Needham, Taylor Nelson, Tannon Pedersen, Taylor Pili, Anu Pole’o, Emmanuel Roker, Robert Torgerson and Patrick Tyler
Opponent Preview: Northern Arizona Lumberjacks
The Lumberjacks of Northern Arizona have had a very solid season, and will come to Cedar City with a 7-3 overall record and a 6-1 Big Sky Conference record.
After dropping their first two contests of the season to Arizona and Western Illinois, the Lumberjacks rattled off six straight victories. Their winning streak was ultimately snapped by Montana, as the Grizzlies were able to top the Lumberjacks in Missoula. Last weekend, the Lumberjacks were able to fend off the Bobcats of Montana State, winning 37-36 in Flagstaff.
At quarterback, Case Cookus has been very consistent for the Lumberjacks this season. He has completed 230 passes for 2,989 yards and 20 touchdowns over the course of the season.
After losing Emmanuel Butler to an injury early in the season, Elijah Marks has been the top target for Cookus this season. Marks has caught 66 passes for 1,084 yards and six touchdowns. Hunter Burton, Chancellor Brewington and Jonathan Baldwin have all gone over 300 yards in terms of receiving this season.
On the ground, both Joe Logan and Cory Young have had a major impact for the Lumberjacks. Logan has carried the ball 135 times for 650 yards and six touchdowns, while Cory Young has 118 carries for 640 yards and seven touchdowns.
On the defensive side of the ball Byron Evans, Wes Sutton and Kam’ron Johnson all have over 60 tackles for the Lumberjacks this season. Johnson leads the team with four interceptions. James Walton has racked up 13 tackles for loss this season for the Lumberjacks.
Big Sky At A Glance
It all comes down to the final weekend in the Big Sky Conference, with Southern Utah, Weber State and Northern Arizona all currently sitting with a 6-1 record in the Big Sky.
If Southern Utah wins on Saturday, they will earn the Big Sky’s automatic bid to the FCS Playoff as well as earning the title of Big Sky Champion.
Weber State can still claim a piece of the Big Sky Championship if they were to win on Saturday, but regardless of their result the Thunderbirds control their own destiny with the automatic bid. If SUU wins, they’re in the FCS Playoff.
Words From Coach Warren
On what impressed him most about the UC Davis game…..
“They came out ready to play,” SUU head coach Demario Warren said. “I’m really excited about how they reacted and came out fired up, willing to execute and willing to put their bodies on the line. We got beat up from the game, but I thought the guys did a really good job of coming out with some intensity, some focus in trying to get win number eight on the season.”
On what the keys are for big games like this…..
“In these rivalry games, in these championship games, you really need to focus on things you can control,” he said. “Make sure you don’t overreact to great plays, don’t overreact to bad plays, and make sure you stay the course for 60 minutes. Our guys need to do a good job of preparing, great job of executing on Saturday and make sure we do the best job we can with our game plan.”
On what he’s seen from NAU on film…..
“They’ve got an all around great team,” he said. “Their defense is doing a great job against the pass, they’re taking the ball away from the offenses and on offense they’ve got one of the best quarterbacks in the country. Case Cookus was freshman of the year two years ago, got banged up last year, but he’s back and he’s leading a great offense once again.”
The game will be available on the airwaves locally on KSUB 590 AM with Art Challis and Devin Dixon on the call for the Thunderbirds. Live stats will be available on www.suutbirds.com prior to the start of the game on Saturday.