Football Hosts Fort Lewis In Home-Opener

September 03, 2013
By SUU Strategic Communication
James Cowser had 12 tackles last week at South Alabama
James Cowser had 12 tackles last week at South Alabama
Courtesy: Greg Stauffer

Quickly: Southern Utah University plays its home-opener Saturday when the Thunderbirds host Fort Lewis College in a 6:00 p.m. game at Eccles Coliseum.

The game is the season-opener for Fort Lewis.

Southern Utah (1-0/0-0 Big Sky) is coming off a 22-21 win at South Alabama. The Thunderbirds jumped out to a 10-0 first period lead against the FBS-level Jaguars then had to battle back from a 21-13 deficit in the fourth quarter. Senior kicker Colton Cook hit a 28-yard field goal as time expired to clinch the win, which was Coach Ed Lamb’s first victory in a road-opener and his second over an FBS school in the past three seasons.

Fort Lewis (0-0/0-0 RMAC) will be opening the John L. Smith era on Saturday. The former Utah State coach took the reins of the Skyhawk program last winter and he will be looking to rebuild the program after six losing seasons. Last year FLC posted a 0-10 mark, including a 69-0 loss at SUU rival Northern Arizona.

The Game: Fort Lewis (0-0) at Southern Utah (1-0), Saturday at 6:00 p.m. (MDT) at Eccles Coliseum (8,500/Hellas MatrixTurf).

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.

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.

SUU In Home-Openers

Southern Utah is 31-18-1 home-openers since moving to four-year status in 1963, and has won all five of its previous home-openers under Coach Ed Lamb. The Thunderbirds opened last season with a 45-23 win over New Mexico Highlands to give them five straight wins in home-openers. In 2011 SUU posted a 35-14 win over Sacramento State in the home-opener, in 2010 the Thunderbirds rolled past San Diego, 32-3, in 2009 they posted at 36-7 win over Dixie State and in 2008 it was a 38-10 win over Adams State for Lamb’s first win as a head coach. The last loss in an SUU home-opener came in 2007 when the Thunderbirds lost a 37-10 decision to North Dakota. SUU is 7-3 in its past 10 home-openers.

The Series

Saturday’s game will be the 31st between the two schools in a series that dates back to the 1960s when both schools were members of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference. The Thunderbirds hosted Fort Lewis in the first home game of SUU’s four-year era, back in 1963, and came away with a 21-20 win under Coach Bruce Osborne. FLC returned the favor later that season with a 27-0 shutout of the T-Birds in Durango, Colo. SUU leads the series 20-10, including a 54-16 triumph in Cedar City during the 2000 season, the last time the two teams played. The Thunderbirds are 16-3 vs. the Skyhawks in Cedar City, with wins in the last seven meetings. The last FLC win came in Durango during the 1984 season, 28-6, and the last Skyhawk win in Cedar City was a 24-14 triumph during the 1983 season.

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, Sac 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

Video Highlights: 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 Big Sky TV). 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

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 Dr. Art Challis is in his 40th season as the Thunderbirds' football voice. Matt Roan, a former all-conference performer for the Thunderbirds, will provide color commentary.

TV: There will be no television coverage of Saturday’s game.

SUU’s TV Games in 2013: SUU is scheduled to play on live television just once this season. The Sept. 14 game at Washington State is scheduled to be televised by the Pac-12 Networks.

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 face off against a Pac-12 school for the second consecutive season next week when they travel to Pullman, Wash., for a match-up with Washington State.

The team remains on the road for a non-conference game at Sacramento State, Sept. 21, and plays its third straight road game and its Big Sky-opener on Sept. 28 when the Thunderbirds take on Northern Colorado.

The Big Sky home-opener against UC Davis follows on Oct. 5, with the annual Homecoming contest 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 27-29 one game into 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 0-0 against the Skyhawks.

Fort Lewis’ John L. Smith (Weber State ‘71) will be coaching his first game as the Skyhawks coach on Saturday. He brings an overall record of 136-94 in 19 seasons into Saturday’s game. Smith has served as head coach at Idaho, Utah State, Louisville, Michigan State and Arkansas during his career.

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). Fort Lewis is a member of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference.

Notes From The South Alabama Game: 

Tommy Collet Jr. had an interception in the fourth quarter that arguably sparked the Thunderbirds to the win. Collet has notched interceptions in each of his past two games as he returned a pick for a touchdown in the season-finale at Northern Arizona last year.

• 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: 

SUU has nine players ranked among the FCS top-50 in 11 statistical categories after the first week of the season, while the team figures among the top-50 programs in 18 major categories and among the top-30 in 11.

Defense: LB Matt Holley ranks fourth in tackles for loss with three per game and 15th in total tackles with 13 while LB Zak Browning is 18th in sacks with one per game and tied for 22nd in total tackles with 12. FS Tommy Collet Jr. is tied for fifth in the nation with one interception per game while DE James Cowser is tied with Browning in total tackles (22nd) with 12.

Offense: On the offensive side of the ball, RB Raysean Martin ranks 23rd in the FCS with an average of 107 rushing yards per game while QB Aaron Cantu is 37th in passing efficiency at 132.0 and is 49th in both passing yards and passing yards per game with 183.

Special Teams: Kicker Colton Cook has the T-Birds’ highest individual rank, as he is tied for the nation’s lead in field goals per game with 3.0. Punter Brock Miller ranks 20th in the nation at 43.4 yards per punt, and Griff McNabb is 50th in kickoff return average at 19.5 yards per return.

Team: In the team categories SUU is tied atop the list in four categories: red zone offense (100 percent); fumbles lost, interceptions thrown and turnovers lost with zero in each category. The Thunderbirds also rank third in red zone defense at 50 percent, 14th in tackles for loss (eight), 16th in net punting (43.0 ypp), 23rd in turnover margin (plus one) and 29th in pass defense (148 ypg). SUU is 30th in interceptions (one), 32nd in scoring defense (22 points), 34th in total defense (335 yards), 37th in punt return defense (1.5 ypr), 39th in passing efficiency (131.97), 43rd in punt returns (4.0 ypr), 44th in sacks (one) and 50th in turnovers gained (one).

T-Birds Receiving Votes In Polls: Southern Utah was listed among the others receiving votes in both the coaches and the Sports Network’s top-25 polls this week. SUU was 27th in the coaches poll with 17 points and 31st in the Sports Network poll with 106 points.

Cook Named ROOT SPORTS Player of the Week: SUU senior placekicker Colton Cook has been named this week’s ROOT SPORTS Big Sky Special Teams Player of the Week, the conference office has announced. Cook, a senior from Bountiful, Utah (Viewmont HS) was 3-3 on field goals and 1-1 on extra points in the Thunderbirds’ 22-21 win at South Alabama. He scored the first and last points of the game, on a 33-yard field goal to stake SUU to a 3-0 first quarter lead and a 28-yarder as time expired to lift the Thunderbirds to the 22-21 victory. He also had a 37-yarder in the third period and was perfect on his only point after touchdown attempt.

Cook, Holley Earn National Awards: Cook and SUU linebacker Matt Holley have both been honored for their play in last week’s win at South Alabama. Cook was named national placekicker of the week by College Football Performance Awards, while Holley, a junior from Las Vegas, Nev. (Centennial HS) earned honorable mention from the CFPA for his performance in the game. Holley led SUU with a career-high 13 tackles. He also led team with six solo tackles and three tackles-for loss. On USA's final drive he had a tackle for a 4-yard loss on second down and a QB hurry on third, forcing the Jaguars to punt and setting up SUU's winning drive. Cook’s contribution is detailed above.

Records Watch: Three Thunderbirds figure into the SUU record books by either getting close to, improving on, or moving up in the Thunderbird top-10 following the South Alabama game. Brock Miller punted seven times for 304 yards to up his SUU-record career punting average from 42.62 to 42.68 yards per kick. With 10 points Colton Cook moved past Zed Robinson (1991-92) and into eighth place on the SUU scoring list; Robinson scored 160 points in his career, Cook now has 166. With three field goals (which is tied for the second-most in a game in SUU history) Cook also moved closer to Herky Marxen’s record 38 in a career; Cook moved out of a tie with Steve Pulver and now has 36. Finally, Fatu Moala needs one reception, 29 receiving yards and two touchdowns to move into the SUU top-10 in each of those categories.

Scouting the Skyhawks: 

With a new coaching staff and a bye in the first week of the season Fort Lewis is somewhat of a mystery. The Skyhawks didn’t win a game last season but that is sure to change with John L. Smith at the helm of the program.

Smith has built winners at Idaho, Utah State, Louisville and Michigan State during his head coaching career and fans in Durango, Colo., are hoping he can turn the Skyhawk program around.

Fort Lewis, which was picked to finish 10th in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference this season, has seven starters returning on offense and nine on the defensive side of the ball.

Last year’s leading receiver, senior Doyle Bode, returns after catching 46 passes for 488 yards and three touchdowns. He is joined by returning starting wideouts Jordan Benton and Micah Young and sophomore running back Amery Duncan as well as three offensive linemen, senior Evan Wagstrom and sophomores Taylor Suta and Robert Carlson. Benton caught 34 passes for 388 yards and a score last season, while Young had 17 receptions for 266 yards and a TD in six games.

Defensively the Skyhawks return second-leading tackler Jamal Campbell, who had 61 stops and a team-high two interceptions from his defensive back position last year, as well as linebacker Drew Smith, who had 56 tackles and six tackles for loss in 2012.

FLC averaged 11.8 points per game while giving up 44.6 last season when the Skyhawks averaged 85 yards per game on the ground and 214 through the air. The FLC defense gave up 218 rushing and 246 passing yards per game last year.