Football Heads To Sacramento State

September 17, 2013
By SUU Strategic Communication
James Cowser co-leads the Thunderbirds in tackles for loss and sacks
James Cowser co-leads the Thunderbirds in tackles for loss and sacks
Courtesy: Greg Stauffer

Quickly: Southern Utah University hits the road for its final non-conference game of the season this weekend as the Thunderbirds take on Sacramento State at Hornet Stadium Saturday evening.

Southern Utah (2-1/0-0 Big Sky) is coming off a 48-10 setback at Washington State. The Thunderbirds opened the season with wins at South Alabama and at home against Fort Lewis but couldn’t make it three in a row against the most resurgent team in the Pac-12. 

Sacramento State (1-2/0-0 Big Sky) broke into the win column for the first time this season last week with a 63-56 overtime win against Southern Oregon. The Hornets opened the season with back-to-back road losses, at San Jose State and at Arizona State, before righting the ship last week.

Although the two teams are members of the Big Sky Conference the game is a non-conference clash that was scheduled before the Thunderbirds joined the BSC last season.

The Game: Southern Utah (2-1/0-0) at Sacramento State (1-2/0-0), Saturday at 6:05 p.m. (PDT) at Hornet Stadium (21,195/FieldTurf).

Radio: All of Southern Utah’s 2013 football games will be available over the Thunderbird Sports Network. SUU flagship station KSUU (91.1 FM) will carry every game live as well as on the worldwide web at SUU Athletic Media Relations Director Neil Gardner will handle the play-by-play as the T-Birds’ regular voice, Dr. Art Challis, will be in China for a two-week exchange program. Matt Roan, a former all-conference performer for the Thunderbirds, will provide color commentary.

Video Highlights: High definition video highlights of ALL of the Thunderbirds’ home and road games will be available to accredited media outlets via SUU’s FTP site. For information on obtaining those highlights contact SUU Director of Athletic Media Relations Neil Gardner.

Live Internet Video on Internet telecasts of all of SUU’s home games as well as its Big Sky road games are available through (formerly BigSkyTV). The broadcasts are free of charge but a subscription is necessary and viewers need to download the latest versions of Adobe Flash and Octoshape if they do not already have them (the downloads are available on Viewers who had an account with BigSkyTV will be able to use that account to access

TV: Saturday’s game will not be televised.

Media Availability: Players and coaches are available for interviews on Tuesdays following practice, at approximately 7:00 p.m. To contact a player or coach on another day or time, or to arrange telephone interviews, contact Neil Gardner at or 435-586-7753.

Thunderbird Practice Schedule: The players are off on Mondays, with daily practices Tuesday through Friday. Tuesday practices are scheduled to begin at 5:35 p.m., Wednesday practices will begin at 5:30, while Thursday and Friday practices will start at 4:45 p.m.

The Series: Sacramento State holds a 7-6 edge in the series after claiming a 27-22 win in Cedar City last season. The teams have split their last two meetings, as the Thunderbirds claimed a 35-14 win in Cedar City during the 2011 season, but the Hornets have come out on top of four of the last five. SUU is 2-4 vs. the Hornets in Sacramento, with the last win at Hornet Stadium coming back in 1993 when the T-Birds pulled out a 23-17 win. The SUU/SAC series began in 1986 when the T-Birds joined the Hornets in the Western Football Conference. The teams then met every year as members of the WFC and subsequently the American West Conference, until SAC left the AWC to join the Big Sky in 1996.

Big Sky Teleconference: The Big Sky Conference holds a weekly coaches teleconference, Wednesdays beginning at 10:00 a.m. (Mountain). For information on accessing the teleconference, contact SUU Director of Athletic Media Relations Neil Gardner. The schedule follows:

            10:00 a.m. MTN (9:00 PCT) – Rob Ash, Montana State

            10:08 a.m. MTN (9:08 PCT) – Chris Mussman, North Dakota

            10:16 a.m. MTN (9:16 PCT) – Ed Lamb, Southern Utah

            10:24 a.m. MTN (9:24 PCT) – Jody Sears, Weber State

            10:32 a.m. MTN (9:32 PCT) – Mike Kramer, Idaho State

            10:40 a.m. MTN (9:40 PCT) –  Mick Delaney, Montana

            10:48 a.m. MTN (9:48 PCT)  – Earnest Collins Jr., No. Colorado

            10:56 a.m. MTN (9:56 PCT) – Jerome Souers, No. Arizona

            11:04 a.m. MTN (10:04 PCT) –  Nigel Burton, Portland State

            11:12 a.m. MTN (10:12 PCT) – Marshall Sperbeck, Sacramento State

            11:20 a.m. MTN (10:20 PCT) – Beau Baldwin, E. Washington

            11:28 a.m. MTN (10:28 PCT) – Tim Walsh, Cal Poly

            11:36 a.m. MTN (10:36 PCT) – Ron Gould, UC Davis

Thunderbird Club Luncheons: The Thunderbird Club’s weekly no-host luncheon is held Mondays at noon at the Cedar City Crystal Inn. The public is invited to attend the luncheons where Southern Utah’s in-season coaches talk about their upcoming contests and review the past week’s action.

Next Up/Remaining Schedule:

The Thunderbirds remain on the road for their Big Sky opener next week at Northern Colorado before returning home to host UC Davis on Oct. 5. The annual Homecoming contest is a week later, Oct. 12, when the Thunderbirds host Portland State.

Following a road trip to Eastern Washington on Oct. 19, the ‘Birds return home for a game against Idaho State on Oct. 26 before a bye the week of Nov. 2. The final two road games of the season, at Weber State (Nov. 9) and Montana State (Nov. 16) follow.

The regular season wraps up with a home game against Northern Arizona (Nov. 23).

The Coaches

A 2010 Eddie Robinson Award nominee, SUU's Ed Lamb (BYU, 1996) has a record of 28-30 in his sixth season as the Thunderbird head coach and his sixth season as a head coach overall. Last year Lamb guided the Thunderbirds to a 5-6 record, including a 4-4 mark in SUU’s first season in the Big Sky Conference. In 2011 he led the T-Birds to their second straight winning season and their first win over an FBS-level opponent (UNLV) since 1997.  He led the team to a Great West Conference championship in 2010 when the Thunderbirds went undefeated in GWC play and finished the season with a 6-5 overall mark. Prior to taking over at SUU, Lamb spent three seasons at the University of San Diego where he coordinated the special teams and recruiting and was the Toreros’ defensive backs coach. Lamb also spent two seasons as defensive coordinator at Idaho, a season at BYU as a linebackers coach and four seasons at the University of Redlands, three as defensive coordinator and one as defensive line coach. Lamb is 1-1 vs. the Hornets.

Sacramento State’s Marshall Sperbeck (Nevada, 1984) has compiled a record of 31-39 in six-plus seasons at the helm of the Hornet program. Prior to taking the reins of the Hornets, Coach Sperbeck had a successful career in the junior college ranks, guiding Foothill College to a 109-53 mark over 15 seasons. Coach Sperbeck is 1-1 vs. the Thunderbirds.

Affiliations: Southern Utah is a member of the Big Sky Conference in the majority of its sports, including football (gymnastics is an independent while men’s golf will compete in the American Sky Conference this season). Sacramento State is also a member of the Big Sky Conference.

Notes from the Washington State Game:

• Washington State had just 54 rushing yards as the T-Bird defense held its second straight opponent below 60 yards on the ground. Fort Lewis had 48 yards via the run.

• SUU had more points (10) and yards (219) against Washington State than No. 24/25 Southern Cal did the previous week at home against the Cougars (7 points, 193 yards).

• TE Chandler Allphin had a career-high six receptions for 43 yards.

• FS Tommy Collet Jr. led the team with nine tackles and had one PBU but he saw his streak of games with an interception come to an end at three.

• PR Griff McNabb turned in a season-long 18-yard punt return which set up the Thunderbirds’ lone touchdown.

• The 38-point loss marked the largest margin of defeat by an Ed Lamb-coached team. His previous worst loss was a 46-10 setback at Montana in his third game as a head coach, back in 2008.

Raysean Martin scored his second career touchdown on a 3-yard run in the second period.

LeShaun Sims’ interception in the second period gives the Thunderbirds picks in four straight games and 12 of the last 14. Sims had three picks last year when he and Collet co-led the team.

• SUU had not turned the ball over this season until being intercepted three times at WSU.

• SUU gave up a season-high 410 passing yards but held the Cougars to just 54 on the ground.

Miles Killebrew and James Cowser each had two tackles for loss and Matt Holley had another. SUU went without a sack for the first time this season, however.

Notes from the Fort Lewis Game:

• The Thunderbirds forced seven turnovers in the game, five fumbles and two interceptions, and they were able to convert all but one into scores. The only turnover that didn’t result in a score was an interception late in the second quarter. SUU missed a 51-yard field goal at the end of the half following that pick.

• Senior free safety Tommy Collet Jr. picked off a pass for the third straight game. He had one at South Alabama and he returned a pick for a touchdown in the season-finale at Northern Arizona last year.

• Sophomore cornerback Myles Carelock notched his first career interception.

• The Thunderbirds returned two fumbles for touchdowns, a 19-yarder by junior linebacker Matt Holley and an 89-yarder by sophomore strong safety Miles Killebrew. Killebrew’s effort was the second-longest fumble return in SUU history, bettered only by Akeem Anifowoshe’s 99-yarder vs. Texas State in 2009. Killebrew had a 49-yard return vs. New Mexico Highlands last season, which was the last time returned two fumbles for scores. Austin Anderson – who forced the fumble Holley turned into a touchdown – had the other fumble return for a TD in the Highlands game.

• SUU posted its first shutout since 2010 when the Thunderbirds beat Dixie State 52-0.

• Two players, freshman running back Toa Afatasi and sophomore running back Malik Brown scored the first TD of their collegiate careers in the game, while Holley, Killebrew and junior receiver Easton Pedersen tallied their first scores of the season. Afatasi was playing in his first game as a Thunderbird.

• Quarterback Aaron Cantu threw four touchdown passes, one short of the SUU single-game record.

• Tight end Anthony Norris caught his second and third touchdown passes of the season to take over the team scoring lead with 18 points, one more than kicker Colton Cook.

• True freshman quarterback Mike Sharp ran the team for most of the second half and wound up leading SUU in rushing and all-purpose yards with 67. Sharp joined the team in the spring as a quarterback but with a glut of QBs on the roster he moved to receiver. He was moved back to quarterback this fall after a spate of injuries to the Thunderbirds’ reserve QBs late in the spring and early in fall ball.

• The win gave Coach Ed Lamb his first 2-0 start as a head coach.

Notes from the South Alabama Game: 

Tommy Collet Jr.’s interception in the fourth quarter arguably sparked the Thunderbirds to the win. It led to SUU’s final touchdown and swung the momentum to the ‘Birds’, who went on to shut down USA’s offense and score on the final play of the game to take the win.

• Freshman running back Raysean Martin wound up with 107 yards on 23 carries, giving him the most yards by a freshman running back in his first game as a Thunderbird during the school’s NCAA era. Martin’s first carry as a Thunderbird went for five yards and he scored his first touchdown on a one-yard run in the first period as the team jumped out to a 10-0 lead.

• Junior quarterback Aaron Cantu’s first completion as a Thunderbird was a 12-yard hook-up with Griff McNabb for a first down on the Thunderbirds’ first drive of the season.

• Senior kicker Colton Cook scored the first and the last points of the game. He hit a 33-yard field goal in the first period to cap SUU’s opening drive and stake the team to a 3-0 lead and he hit a 28-yarder as time expired to secure the 22-21 win. He added a 37-yard field goal to cap the opening drive of the second half and hit his only extra point attempt.

• Defensive tackle Toi Taufa, who was playing in his first game since graduating from high school in 2010, was credited with blocking a field goal attempt midway through the second quarter.

• Sophomore tight end Anthony Norris caught his first collegiate pass in the game and went on to score his first touchdown on Cantu’s first TD pass at SUU. Norris appeared in nine games last year but served primarily as a sixth offensive lineman and didn’t catch a pass.

• Sophomore tight end Chandler Allphin caught his first pass as a T-Bird as well, a 54-yard hookup with Cantu that set up a one-yard Raysean Martin touchdown run.

• Senior WR Griff McNabb led the team with career-highs of 77 receiving and 120 all-purpose yards (he added 43 return yards).

• The win was Ed Lamb’s first win in a road-opener, his second in an opening game in his SUU career and his second over a BCS-level opponent in the last three seasons.

• SUU had 317 yards of total offense, 183 through the air and 134 on the ground; USA had 335 yards, 187 rushing and 148 passing.

SUU In The FCS National Ranks: 

After two weeks of the season SUU has nine players ranked among the FCS top-50 in nine statistical categories, while the team figures among the top-30 programs in 13 categories.

Defense: LB Matt Holley and James Cowser are tied for sixth in tackles for loss with an average of 2.2 per game while Holley is also 16th in fumbles recovered. Tommy Collet Jr. also ranks in a pair of categories, ninth in interceptions, with 0.7 per game, and 31st in passes defended, where he is tied with teammate LeShaun Sims with 1.3 per game. Toi Taufa is 27th in fumbles recovered with 0.5 per game.

Offense: On the offensive side of the ball, QB Aaron Cantu ranks 32nd in passing efficiency at 142.2 and is 47th in completions per game with 16.7.

Special Teams: Punter Brock Miller ranks 10th in the nation with a 43.9 yards per punt average while kicker Colton Cook is 18th in field goals per game with 1.3. Griff McNabb is 36th in punt return average at 5.5 yards per return.

Team: In the team categories tied for first in fourth down conversion percentage (100 percent) and fumbles lost (zero) and is third in fumbles recovered (five) and red zone defense (0.545 conversion rate). The Thunderbirds are fourth in both turnover margin (plus-2.0) and turnovers gained (nine) and are 10th in net punting (40.3 ypp). SUU also ranks 12th in rushing defense (96.3 ypg), 14th in interceptions (four), 19th in turnovers lost (three), 20th in penalties per game (4.7), 21st in red zone offense (0.917 percent conversion rate) and 25th in penalty yards per game (39.3). 

T-Birds Receiving Votes In Polls: Southern Utah was listed among the others receiving votes in both the FCS Coaches and the Sports Network’s top-25 polls this week. SUU was 37th in the coaches poll with four points and 32nd in the Sports Network poll with 114 points.

Records Watch:Brock Miller’s seven punts for 295 yards at WSU dropped his career average from 42.91 yards to 42.85 yards per kick but it is still the highest career average in SUU history. Colton Cook’s four points against the Cougars give him 177 career points, which is eighth on the SUU list  (21 behind seventh place Kelvin Minefee, 1988-89) and his 66 PATs are just two shy of Joe Wells’ (1978-80). He is also now within one field goal of Herkey Marxen’s SUU career record of 38. Senior WR Fatu Moala moved into the SUU career top-10 in a pair of categories against Fort Lewis and improved his standing with three more catches at WSU. Moala now has 99 career catches for 1,236 yards in his two-plus seasons at SUU. He needs three receptions to tie Don Gross (1971-72) in ninth and five to tie Bob Stookey (1988-91) and Jerome Eason (2004-05) in seventh place; and he is 23 yards behind Jared Ursua (2008-11) and 40 yards behind Eason for ninth and eighth places, respectively.

Scouting the Hornets:

Sacramento State will be playing its second straight home game and its first contest against an FCS-level opponent after opening at San Jose State and traveling to Arizona State – a pair of FBS-level opponents – then hosting Division II Southern Oregon last week.

After being shut out in their first two games the Hornets got into a shootout last week as they combined with SOU to roll up 1,238 yards of offense and score 119 points in the 63-56 overtime win. Sacramento State threw for 366 yards and ran for another 233 but gave up 368 yards through the air and 271 on the ground.

QB Garrett Safron threw a school-record seven touchdown passes in the game and WR DeAndre Carter was on the receiving end of five of those for another Hornet record.

On the season Safron has completed 68-of-113 passes for 671 yards and seven TDs and he has been intercepted five times. His favorite receiver has been Morris Norrise, with 20 receptions for 181 yards and two scores, while Carter has 16 catches for 156 yards and the five TDs against Southern Oregon. WR Shane Harrison has 10 catches for 146 yards.

Running back Ezekiel Graham is the team’s leading rusher, with 236 yards on 53 carries and one touchdown, while Safron has 74 rushing yards on 34 carries after being sacked nine times and Demetrius Warren has 74 yards on 19 carries.

Inside linebacker Russell Smith has led the defense with 26 tackles while middle ‘backer Todd Davis has tallied 25 stops with one sack and two TFLs. DE Darnell Sankey leads the team with 1.5 sacks and CB Osagie Odiase has a team-high four passes broken up.

Through the first three games the Hornets have averaged 21 points and 361.3 yards per game, 136 on the ground and 225.3 through the air. They have allowed their opponents an average of 45 points and 496.3 yards per game, 177.7 on the ground and 318.7 through the air.