By Tom Zulewski
Iron County Today
In five previous matchups, the Southern Utah Thunderbirds had never beaten their opponent. For a few fleeting moments, it was looking like that string would continue.
One special play by the special-teams unit changed everything.
Alex Sims blocked a field-goal attempt that led to Manny Berz’s 26-yard field goal with 1 minute, 50 seconds remaining as the T-Birds held on to beat No. 18 Northern Iowa, 24-21 in front of an announced crowd of 8,841 at Eccles Coliseum. SUU beat the Panthers for the first time in the teams’ first meeting since 2011 and improved to 2-1 on the season.
The winning points were made possible when Jarmaine Doubs returned the block 29 yards to the Northern Iowa 17-yard line. Three plays later, Berz hit his fourth field goal in five tries on the season to help SUU survive Northern Iowa’s comeback bid from a 21-10 third-quarter deficit.
“I was just excited to be out there and have the chance to contribute,” said the freshman from Riverside, Calif. “I was in shock a little bit, but after I came back to reality, I just wanted to celebrate with my team.”
Defensive lineman Robert Torgerson echoed the sentiment.
“It was crazy, a great push, great stop by the defense,” he said. “We wanted to get (Doubs) in there so bad, but unfortunately we missed one of the guys. It still was a good team effort. When you come up with a big play like that, everyone’s hyped up.”
Torgerson came up with a sack – SUU’s fourth of the night – of UNI quarterback Eli Dunne on the first play after the go-ahead score, and freshman Jalen Russell sealed the win with a fourth-down interception.
With the help of four sacks, the T-Birds held the Panthers to minus-14 rushing yards and helped overcome a sub-par night from quarterback Patrick Tyler, who was 16-of-35 for 200 yards with a second-quarter touchdown pass of 33 yards to Bryan Beckon, but also threw three interceptions – including one that led directly to the game-tying field goal.
“It didn’t matter if the offense had a turnover. The defense didn’t flinch, they just kept coming out and playing,” SUU head coach Demario Warren said. “We can win in a lot of different ways, and that’s what’s so special about this team.”
UNI (1-2) began its comeback with 8:08 remaining in the game when Dunne found Trevor Allen on a 21-yard connection and added the two-point conversion with a pass to Briley Moore. The red-clad T-Bird crowd started to feel a little more stress when a Tyler pass bounced off a defender and was intercepted by Jared Farley, who returned it 38 yards to the SUU 14-yard line.
As was the story all night, the T-Bird defense held and Austin Errthum hit a 30-yard field goal to tie the score at 21-21 with 5:37 to play.
Tyler would be stopped on a fourth-and-1 at the SUU 42 on the next series, giving UNI its chance at the lead for the first time in the game.
Thanks to one swift block, the T-Birds held firm and turned it into its second non-conference victory over an FCS program heading into the Big Sky opener that happens on the road Saturday at Sacramento State.
SOUTHERN UTAH 24, NORTHERN IOWA
Iowa 0 7 3 11 — 21
Southern Utah 7 7 7 3 — 24
SUU – Felila 1 run (Berz kick), 8:41
SUU – Beckon 33 pass from Tyler (Berz kick), 14:39
UNI – Thomas 15 interception return (Drysdale kick), 6:52
UNI – FG Errthum 42, 7:43
SUU – Felila 20 run (Berz kick), 4:35
UNI – T. Allen 21 pass from Dunne (Moore pass from Dunne), 8:08
UNI – FG Errthum 30, 5:37
SUU – FG Berz 26. 1:50
RUSHING – N. Iowa: Jegen 10-13; Browning 4-10; Allen 5-6; Graham 2-minus 4; Dunne 6-minus 39. Southern Utah: Felila 21-92; Tyler 14-45; Beasley 3-13; Green 3-6
PASSING – N. Iowa: Dunne 26-47-2-284. Southern Utah: Tyler 16-35-3-200; Zwahlen 1-1-0-44; Baker 1-1-0-minus 1
RECEIVING – N. Iowa: Fountain 8-138; James 4-40; Moore 4-24; Nissen 3-26; T. Allen 2-25; Jegen 2-21; Graham 1-5; Weston 1-5; A.J. Allen 1-0. Southern Utah: Measom 5-61; Beckon 3-79; Diego-Williams 3-22; Rutledge 2-21; Felila 2-10; Berz 1-44; Parker 1-7; Sims 1-minus 1.