#20 SUU Hosts #10 Northern Arizona In Football's Home Finale'

November 19, 2013
By SUU Strategic Communication
Courtesy: SUU Strategic Communications

Quickly: Southern Utah wraps up the 2013 regular season Saturday when the 20th-ranked Thunderbirds host No. 10 Northern Arizona on Senior Day i a clash between the top two defenses in the Big Sky.

The game is a key Big Sky Conference match-up that will not only decide where the Hinton-Burdick Grand Canyon Trophy spends the next year but will also have an impact on the playoffs.

The game is the first between ranked teams at Southern Utah since Oct. 1, 2011 when  the Thunderbirds, who were ranked 17th in the Sports Network poll and 19th by the coaches, hosted North Dakota, which was unranked by TSN but were 24th in the coaches poll.

The game has playoff implications for both teams as the Thunderbirds, who boast the Big Sky’s top-ranked defense, enter the game tied for third place in the BSC with a 5-2 overall mark while the Lumberjacks, who have the second-ranked defense in the conference, are all alone in second place at 6-1. At 8-2 overall NAU has probably wrapped up a playoff berth, while the Thunderbirds would almost certainly earn one for themselves in the 24-team NCAA Division I FCS playoffs with a win.

The Thunderbirds (8-3/5-2 Big Sky) are coming off a 22-14 win at then No. 8 Montana State. The win, SUU’s third in a row, gave the Thunderbirds a school-record-tying eighth win on the season.

Southern Utah, which is tied with MSU and Montana for third place in the Big Sky, dominated the first three quarters on a frigid evening in Bozeman, Mont., last week, then held off a furious Bobcat rally in the fourth quarter. The Thunderbird defense stopped MSU on third and goal as time ran out to seal the win.

Northern Arizona (8-2/6-1 Big Sky) wrapped up its home schedule last Saturday with a 24-7 win over Northern Colorado. The Lumberjacks are riding a five-game winning streak, all in Big Sky games.

The Lumberjacks built a 17-0 lead at home against UNC last weekend before the Bears finally got on the scoreboard early in the fourth period. Northern Arizona answered with a late touchdown to cement the victory.

SUU claimed the Hinton-Burdick Grand Canyon Trophy last year after coming out on top of a triple-overtime game with a 35-29 win. It was the first season the teams had played for the trophy.

SUU will honor its 15 seniors who will be playing their final regular season home game prior to the game.

The Game: Northern Arizona (8-2/6-1) at Southern Utah (8-3/5-2), Saturday at 1:05 p.m. at Eccles Coliseum (8,500/MatrixTurf).

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 www.suu.edu/ksuu. Dr. Art Challis, who is in his 40th season as the Voice of the Thunderbirds provides the play-by-play while Jared Ursua will provide analysis.

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 WatchBigSky.com: Internet telecasts of all of SUU’s home games as well as its Big Sky road games are available through WatchBigSky.com (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 WatchBigSky.com). Viewers who had an account with BigSkyTV will be able to use that account to access WatchBigSky.com.

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 gardner@suu.edu 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: NAU holds an 11-6 edge in the series, but the Thunderbirds have come out on top of the last two contests, a 35-29 triple-overtime win at NAU last season and a 27-24 triumph the year before, again at NAU. In fact, all six of SUU’s wins have come in Flagstaff, Ariz., where 13 of the 17 previous games have been played. NAU is 4-0 in Cedar City, including a 26-23 win the last time the teams met in Eccles Coliseum, during the 2010 season. The two programs have squared off each of the past five seasons, and each game has come down to the wire. In addition to the last three games NAU claimed a 42-39 win in Flagstaff in 2009 and a 19-14 win in Cedar City in 2008. Prior to 2011 the last SUU win came in the season finale of the 2000 season, when SUU triumphed, 27-23, to cap a 7-4 campaign.

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:

Should the Thunderbirds be included among the 24-team field for the 2013 NCAA Division I FCS playoffs they will play next week at a location to be determined. 

The Coaches:

A 2012 and 2010 Eddie Robinson Award nominee, SUU's Ed Lamb (BYU, 1996) has a record of 34-32 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. Coach Lamb is 2-3 vs. the Lumberjacks.

Northern Arizona’s Jerome Souers (Oregon, 1983) is 92-87 in his 16th season as head coach at NAU and in his 16th season overall as a head coach. Coach Souers is 5-3 vs. the Thunderbirds. 

Affiliations: Southern Utah is a member of the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision’s Big Sky Conference. Northern Arizona is also a member of the Big Sky Conference.

Notes from the Montana State Game:

• SUU’s defense was the star of the show for the Thunderbirds, who were the first team to hold the Bobcats scoreless in the first half and the first Big Sky team to keep them from scoring on their opening drive. MSU had minus-16 yards of total offense at the end of the first period and just 38 yards heading into the fourth quarter. Even though the Bobcats picked up 245 yards in the fourth period they still wound up with a season-low 283 yards of total offense.

• The Thunderbirds had a season-high five sacks, giving them nine in the last two games.

• Sophomore defensive tackle Toi Taufa was credited with a career-high three sacks while junior end Austin Anderson had one and freshman DT Robert Torgerson had another.

• Junior linebacker Matt Holley intercepted two passes, tying the SUU single-game record. It is the third time this season a T-Bird has picked off two passes in a game, as Tyree Mills had two picks at Northern Colorado and two against Portland State.

• SUU has five road wins, equalling the team’s total number of victories last season.

• The Thunderbirds went without a turnover and were not assessed a penalty in the game. It was the first time since the second game of the season, against Fort Lewis, that the team didn’t turn it over and the first time all year it didn’t draw a penalty flag.

• Junior quarterback Aaron Cantu completed 10-of-12 passes. His season completion percentage is .653.

• Sophomore tight end Anthony Norris had career-highs with five receptions for 54 yards. He hadn’t been on the receiving end of a pass since the Portland State game when he had two catches for 35 yards.

• Senior WR Fatu Moala had one reception for eight yards, extending his streak to 31 straight games with at least one reception.

• Montana State finished with 87 rushing yards. It was the third straight game SUU had held an opponent below 100 yards on the ground and the sixth time this season. The Thunderbirds have held seven of their 11 opponents to 350 yards of total offense or fewer.

• SUU finished with 94 passing yards. It was the first time since Oct. 21, 2006 – when the T-Birds finished with 80 yards through the air at UC Davis – that the Thunderbirds had not passed for at least 100 yards.

SUU In The FCS/BSC National Ranks: 

SUU has four players ranked among the FCS top-50 in seven statistical categories and the team figures among the top-30 programs in 15 categories and among the top-40 in two more. SUU leads the Big Sky in six team categories and is second in another eight.

Defense: DE James Cowser ranks in two categories: ninth in the nation and second in the Big Sky with 0.9 sacks per game and 12th in the FCS and second in the Sky with 1.5 tackles for loss per game.

Offense: On the offensive side of the ball QB Aaron Cantu also ranks among the nation’s top-50 in two categories: 17th in completion percentage at .653 and 36th in completions per game with 17.5; those numbers rank third and fifth in the BSC.

Special Teams: Kicker Colton Cook’s 1.5 field goals per game rank fourth in the nation and second in the Big Sky while his field goal percentage (.810) ranks 19th and is third in the conference. Punter Brock Miller’s 43.4 yards per punt average puts him 14th in the nation and fourth in the conference.

Team: In the team categories, SUU leads the Big Sky fumbles lost with one, which is also the best mark in the FCS, was well as  in red zone defense (.667, fifth in the nation), time of possession (33:50, fourth), total defense (342.6 ypg, 27th), rushing defense (107.6 ypg, 10th), scoring defense (19.7 ppg, 12th).

SUU is second in the Big Sky in turnover margin (plus 1.2, fourth in the FCS), turnovers gained (27, seventh), fumbles recovered (12, 12th), passes intercepted (15, 13th), fourth down conversion percentage (.667, 15th) and fewest penalty yards per game (42.45, 18th). The Thunderbirds also rank second in the BSC in fewest first downs allowed with 199 (38th in the FCS) and in sacks (2.09 per game, 51st).

SUU also ranks among the nation’s top-30 in penalties per game (17th at 4.82), and turnovers lost (17th with 14), which both rank third in the BSC, as well as in net punting which is sixth in the country but just fourth in the conference at 39.31 yards per punt.

T-Birds In The Polls: Southern Utah entered the national polls for the first time since the 2011 season this week. The Thunderbirds garnered 878 points to rank 20th in the Sports Network’s media poll and pulled in 63 votes from the coaches to rank 22nd in that poll. Southern Utah has not been ranked this late in the season

ROOT Sports Players of the Week:

Matt Holley earned his second ROOT Sports Big Sky Conference Defensive Player of the Week award for his efforts in the Thunderbirds’ 22-14 win at Montana State. Holley intercepted a pair of passes, one of which he returned the Bobcat 18-yard line to set up a short fourth-quarter drive that ended up sealing the victory. He also had a pick in the first half that thwarted an MSU drive and had nine tackles, including seven solo stops, and broke up a pass.

Records Watch: 

• Senior PK Colton Cook sets SUU’s career record every time he hits a field goal. His 38-yard game-winner at Sacramento State put him into a tie atop SUU’s career-field goals list with Herkey Marxen at, appropriately, 38. He has subsequently succeeded on 11 more tries to put the record at 49. His nine points at Weber State gave him 224 for his career to move him past Rod Madsen (222 from 1998 to 2001) and one shy of the SUU mark by a kicker, 225, by Herkey Marxen (1986-89). He also has 77 PAT which puts him in fourth place on SUU’s career list, 29 behind Steve Pulver’s 106 (2003-07).

• Senior WR Fatu Moala – who has caught a pass in 30 straight games and in every game he has ever played in during his SUU career, 31 – moved into fifth place on a pair of career lists at Northern Colorado and after the three subsequent games he has 140 receptions for 1,722 yards. He is 354 yards behind Bob Stookey (1988-91) and three receptions behind A.J. Smith (2003-04) for fourth place on  both respective lists. Moala is also knocking on the door of another list as he needs just one touchdown to move into a tie for ninth in SUU’s career receiving TDs list (he is currently 11th with 10).

• Senior punter Brock Miller’s eight punts for 314 yards at Weber State made his career average dip from 43.29 yards per punt to 43.1, but it is still the best average in school history. Trevor Ward, who last played in 2009, is second at 42.3 ypp. His 2013 season average of 43.5 yards per punt ranks fourth at SUU.

Scouting the Lumberjacks: 

Northern Arizona has a long reputation as a strong defensive team and this year is no different as the Lumberjacks boast the second-ranked defense in the Big Sky. NAU has allowed just 358.6 total yards per game, holding opponents to 212.4 passing yards per game, second-fewest in the league, and 146.2 rushing yards, which ranks fifth in the BSC.

On the offensive side of the ball the Lumberjacks have been balanced, rushing for an average of 159.8 yards per game and passing for 207.8 per contest, an average of 367.6 yards per game. In 697 total plays NAU has rushed 359 times and passed 338.

Northern Arizona hasn’t lost since Oct. 5, when the Lumberjacks traveled to Montana State and came away with a 36-7 setback. They bounced back with a 39-38 win at Sacramento State the following weekend, however, and haven’t lost since. The only other blemish on NAU’s record was a season-opening 35-0 loss at Arizona.

Like the Thunderbirds, the Lumberjacks have utilized a pair of quarterbacks this season. Sophomore Kyren Poe has taken the majority of the snaps but junior Chase Cartwright has also seen action in five games. Poe has completed 138-of-229 passes for 1,287 yards and five touchdowns with seven interceptions while Cartwright has completed 68-of-106 attempts for 721 yards and eight TDs with two picks. Poe is also the team’s third-leading rusher, with 51 carries for 135 yards.

Senior running back Zach Bauman leads the team in both rushing and receptions. He has caught 40 passes for 257 yards and one touchdown and has carried 212 times for 1,281 yards and eight more scores. His 128.1 yards per game rushing average ranks sixth in the FCS while his 154.1 all-purpose yards ranks 10th.

Three wide receivers have more than 30 receptions this season, led by sophomore Alex Holmes, who has 37 catches for 302 yards and three touchdowns. Senior Jesse Brantley has 33 receptions for a team-high 398 yards and three scores, while senior Nick Cole has caught 32 balls for 383 yards and two TDs. Seven different Lumberjacks have caught touchdown passes.

The defense has been led by junior middle linebacker Austin Hasquet, who has 75 tackles, including 5.5 for losses, one sack and a pair of interceptions with five passes broken up. Senior safety Lucky Dozier is second on the team with 64 total tackles, including a team-best 47 solo stops. Dozier also leads the team with three interceptions and has a pair of tackles for loss.

Defensive end Steven Garcia has 56 tackles, including 6.5 for losses and three sacks and he has a team-high eight quarterback hurries, while linebacker Ryan Reardon also has 6.5 TFL among his 45 tackles. DT Tim Wilkinson leads the team with 3.5 sacks while DT Chima Ike has 3.0 sacks and a team-best 7.5 TFL. Senior Anders Battle leads the team with 10 passes broken up, including an interception.