Foothall Hosts Old Rival New Mexico Highlands

September 11, 2012
By SUU Strategic Communication

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Senior guard Zach Brackus
Senior guard Zach Brackus
Courtesy: Greg Stauffer

Quickly: Southern Utah University welcomes an old rival to Cedar City this weekend when the Thunderbirds play their 2012 home opener against New Mexico Highlands University at 6:00 p.m. in Eccles Coliseum.

The Thunderbirds and Cowboys met 16 times in the 1960s, '70s and 80s, largely when both were members of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference.

Southern Utah (0-2/0-0 Big Sky) is coming off a 50-31 loss at California. Although the Thunderbirds grabbed an early 3-0 lead then battled back from a 20-3 deficit to pull within 20-17, they gave up 17 quick points in the fourth quarter for a deficit they couldn't overcome.

New Mexico Highlands (2-0/1-0 RMAC) has posted a pair of impressive wins in its first two games, including a 50-0 shutout on the road in its RMAC opener last weekend at Ft. Lewis. The Cowboys rolled past Eastern New Mexico at home on opening weekend, 42-14, and have averaged over 500 yards of total offense in the two games.

The Game: New Mexico Highlands (2-0/1-0) at Southern Utah (0-2/0-0), Saturday at 6:00 p.m. (MDT), Eccles Coliseum (8,500), Cedar City, Utah.

The Series: Saturday's game will be the 17th meeting between the two schools in football. SUU holds a 10-5-1 lead in the series, which began in 1964. It became a yearly rivalry in 1975 when Highlands joined the RMAC and ran until 1985 when SUU moved from NAIA competition to the NCAA, and in 1988 the teams met one last time in a non-conference match-up. NMHU won the first four match-ups, but the Thunderbirds have won nine of the last 11, with a 3-3 tie in Las Vegas, N.M. in 1982. The last time the teams met, in 1988, SUU came away with a 55-25 win in Cedar City.

Radio: All of Southern Utah's 2012 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 Art Challis is entering his 38th season as the Thunderbirds' football voice. Matt Roan, a former all-conference center for the Thunderbirds, will provide color commentary.

On The Internet: Video coverage of all of Southern Utah's remaining games, both home and away, will be available on Big Sky TV, at Audio of SUU games is available at the Thunderbirds' website at or at

SUU's TV Games in 2012: SUU is scheduled to play on live television three more times this season. The Big Sky opener at Portland State (Sept. 22), the Big Sky home-opener vs. Montana State (Sept. 29) and the regular-season finale at Northern Arizona (Nov. 10) will all be televised. The PSU game will be on FOX Northwest, and the Montana State game will be televised in high definition on ROOT Sports. The Northern Arizona game will be televised live on FOX Sports Arizona Plus.

Video Highlights: Video highlights 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.

Radio: All of Southern Utah's 2012 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 Art Challis is entering his 38th season as the Thunderbirds' football voice. Matt Roan, a former all-conference center for the Thunderbirds, will provide color commentary.

Thunderbird Practice Schedule: The players are off on Mondays. Daily practices Tuesday through Thursday are scheduled to begin at 4:30 p.m. and end between 5:30 and 6:00 p.m.

Media Availability: Players and coaches are available for interviews on Tuesdays following practice, at approximately 6:00 p.m. SUU Head Coach Ed Lamb participates in the Big Sky teleconference each Wednesday and media representatives are encouraged to take advantage of this opportunity. His regularly scheduled time is 10:16 a.m. (Mountain). To contact a player or coach on another day or time, or to arrange telephone interviews, contact Neil Gardner at or 435-586-7753.

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

            10:00 a.m. - Rob Ash, Montana State

            10:08 a.m. - Chris Mussman, North Dakota

            10:16 a.m. - Ed Lamb, Southern Utah

            10:24 a.m. - Jody Sears, Weber State

            10:32 a.m. - Mike Kramer, Idaho State

            10:40 a.m. - Mick Delaney, Montana

            10:48 a.m. - Earnest Collins, Jr., Northern Colorado

            10:56 a.m. - Jerome Souers, Northern Arizona

            11:04 a.m. - Nigel Burton, Portland State

            11:12 a.m. - Marshall Sperbeck, Sacramento State

            11:20 a.m. - Beau Baldwin, Eastern Washington

            11:28 a.m. - Tim Walsh, Cal Poly

            11:36 a.m. - Bob Biggs, 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.

SUU In Home-Openers

Southern Utah is 30-18-1 home-openers since moving to four-year status in 1963, and has won all four of its home-openers under Coach Ed Lamb. The Thunderbirds opened last season with a 35-14 win over Sacramento State to give them team four straight wins in home-openers. 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 over its past 10 home-openers.

Next Up/Remaining Schedule:

Southern Utah hits the road for its first Big Sky contest next weekend when the Thunderbirds travel to Portland State for a Sept. 22 match-up. The team then returns home for a pair of BSC contests, against Montana State on Sept. 29 in the annual Homecoming game, and against Sacramento State on Oct. 6.

Following a road trip to Montana on Oct. 13 the 'Birds return home for their final two home games of the season. SUU hosts Weber State on Oct. 20, then Eastern Washington visits Cedar City on Oct. 27.

The regular season wraps up with road games at North Dakota (Nov. 3) and Northern Arizona (Nov. 10). Should SUU qualify for the FCS playoffs, the Thunderbirds would have a bye week between the NAU game and the FCS first round.

The Coaches

A 2010 Eddie Robinson Award nominee, SUU's Ed Lamb (BYU, 1996) has a record of 21-25 in his fifth season as the Thunderbird head coach and his fifth season as a head coach overall. Last year Lamb guided the Thunderbirds 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. Prior to his time at USD Lamb spent two seasons as defensive coordinator at Idaho. He also served 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 0-1 against the Aggies as he was the Thunderbird coach the last time the teams met, in 2009.

New Mexico Highland's Eric Young (Western Oregon), is 6-7 in his second season at NMHU and his second season overall as a head coach.

Affiliations: Southern Utah is beginning its first season in the Big Sky Conference following eight years as a member of the Great West Conference. New Mexico Highlands is a member of the NCAA Division II Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference.

Captains: This year's captains are seniors Brad Sorensen (QB) and Cody Larsen (DT).

SUU In The FCS National Ranks: 

SUU has nine players ranked among the FCS top-50 in 12 statistical categories after playing two opponents from the FBS subdivision, while the team figures among the top-50 programs in five categories and among the top-30 in one.

Defense: Defensive end James Cowser is tied for 26th in interceptions with 0.5 per game and is also 44th in tackles for loss with 1.5 per game. Namari Flentroy is 25th in tackles with 10.5 per game, while Miles Killebrew and Zak Browning are tied for 34th with 10.0 tackles per game.

Offense: Quarterback Brad Sorensen ranks among the top 50 in five categories: he is 20th in completions per game with 21.5, 27th in total passing yards with 445, 30th in passing yards per game at 222.5, 45th in total offense with 213.5 ypg and ranks 49th in passing efficiency with a rating of 117.87. Wide receiver Fatu Moala ranks 37th in receiving yards per game with 76.5.

Special Teams: Brock Miller ranks 11th in punting with an average of 44.07 ypp while Colton Cook is tied for 31st in field goals per game with 1.0 and Josh Smith is 41st in the nation in kickoff return average at 22.86 yards per return.

Team: In the team categories, SUU is 28th in tackles for loss with an average of 7.0, 35th in turnover margin at plus-0.5, 37th in passing offense at 22.5 ypg, 44th in kickoff returns at 22.5 yards per return and 48th in net punting at 35.13 ypp.

2012 Preseason Accolades: SUU had four players receive pre-season honors. Senior quarterback Brad Sorensen, senior offensive guard Zach Brackus and senior defensive tackle Cody Larsen all earned preseason all-Big Sky honors as well as being recognized on a handful of preseason all-America teams. Junior offensive guard Gavin Farr also earned several preseason all-America nods. In addition, Sorensen is on the Payton Award Watch List for the second straight season, is the only FCS-level player on the Unitas Award watch list and was named the pre-season offensive player of the year by the Big Sky Coaches.

Brad Sorensen

            The Sports Network (1st Team All-America)

            College Sports Journal (1st Team All-America)

            Phil Steel's Preview (1st Team All-America)

            Senior Scout Bowl (1st Team All-America)

            College Sports Network (2nd Team All-America)

            Beyond Sports Network (2nd Team All-America)

            All-Big Sky

            Big Sky Preseason Offensive Player of the Year

            Unitas Award Watch List

            Payton Award Watch List

Zach Brackus

            College Sports Network (1st Team All-America)

            Beyond Sports Network (1st Team All-America)

            Sports Network (3rd Team All-America)

            All-Big Sky

Cody Larsen

            Sports Network (2nd Team All-America)

            College Sports Network (2nd Team All-America)

            Phil Steele (3rd Team All-America)

            All-Big Sky

Gavin Farr

            Sports Network (1st Team All-America)

            College Sports Network (2nd Team All-America)

            Phil Steele (3rd Team All-America)

College Football Performance Awards

Southern Utah quarterback Brad Sorensen earned mention as one of the performers of the week at quarterback for his game at Cal after he completed 31-of-45 passes for 292 yards and four touchdowns against the Bears.

SUU defensive end Jeff Tukuafu and punter Brock Miller earned recognition as impact players from CFPA following the Utah State game. Tukuafu got in on three tackles for loss, including one sack, and finished the night with seven tackles, including two solos which both went for losses. Miller punted nine times for 411 yards and pinned the Aggies inside the 20 yard line four times, he also had a career-long 72-yard boot.

Off to a good start: First-year players dominated Southern Utah's stat sheet on the defensive side of the ball at Utah State, and three of them found themselves at the top of the sheet following the Cal game as well. Six of the top-seven tacklers at USU were either starting or playing in their first games, and three of those six were 1-2-3 at Cal as well. Senior OLB Namari Flentroy (who is in his first season on the team) co-led the team at USU with 13 tackles and one fumble recovery, then was tied for second at Cal with eight tackles. True freshman Zak Browning followed up a 12-tackle effort at USU with eight tackles at Cal, including six solo stops and a half-TFL and he also forced a fumble, while Miles Killebrew led the team with 11 tackles, six solo, at Cal following a nine-tackle effort at USU. Senior OLB Rickey Clark, who is in his first season as a starter, had 13 tackles at USU and was tied for fifth on the team at Cal with four stops, along with freshman DE James Cowser (who also had an interception, a sack and two TFLs), sophomore DE Austin Anderson, sophomore cornerback Gordon Garrett and veterans Cody Larsen, Randall Nygren and Brennan Fjord. Junior safety Tommy Collet, Jr., who was a part-time starter last year, was fourth on the list at USU with 10 stops but he sat out the Cal game. Junior cornerback Tyree Mills, who is also in his first year as a starter, had five tackles at Cal and eight at USU, where he also had the team's lone pass deflection.

Run It: SUU struggled to move the ball at Utah State, particularly on the ground, but senior tailback Brian Wilson was effective at Cal, carrying 17 times for 74 yards and scoring a touchdown on a pass reception. SUU wound up with just 79 total rushing yards but if you take away 21 yards lost ion five sacks the team finished with exactly 100 on the day. Senior Myles Crawford-Harris had four carries for 28 yards.

Pass it: SUU passed the ball much more effectively at Cal than it did at Utah State, particularly in the second half. Brad Sorensen completed 31-of-45 passes, tying the eighth-highest completion total in SUU history, for 292 yards and four touchdowns. The TD passes went to Fatu Moala - who had a career-high nine receptions for 85 yards - Henna Brown, Cameron Morgan and Wilson.

Play Of The Day:Cameron Morgan's 37-yard touchdown catch at the end of the first half at Cal was judged as the play of the day by ESPN. Morgan jumped high in the air to make a one-handed grab on a ball that had been tipped by a Cal defender, then pulled it in and got his feet in bounds before falling out of the back of the end zone. The circus catch came on an untimed down following a pass interference call with no time remaining in the second period.

Pick Me Firsts:Tommy Collet, Jr. notched the first interception of his SUU career at Utah State while James Cowser picked off the first pass of his career at Cal.

Turnovers and Penalties: SUU won both the turnover and the penalty battles at Utah State, then came out even in turnovers but was less-penalized at Cal, where both teams lost an interception and a fumble. At USU the Thunderbirds recovered an Aggie fumble and tallied Collet's pick while turning it over just once, an interception in the USU end zone on a tipped ball on the final play of the game. As far as penalties went, Southern Utah was flagged four times for 35 yards while the Aggies drew 10 flags for 108 yards, including four pass interference calls. A fifth pass interference call was declined after the receiver caught the ball. At Cal the Thunderbirds drew seven flags for 56 yards while the Bears were penalized 12 times for 106 yards.

Left-footed kickers: For the second year in a row, Southern Utah's kickers are both left-footed. Both specialists are off to good starts. At Utah State Brock Miller punted nine times for 411 yards - including a 72-yarder on his first boot of the game - and pinned the Aggies inside the 20-yard line four times, then at Cal he booted six punts 250 yards, a 41.7 yard average, pinning the Bears inside the 20 twice. Cal did return one punt for a touchdown, but it was certainly no fault of Miller's, as the receiver - Cal all-American Keenan Allen - muffed the fair catch, then scooped it up and ran 69 yards around the right end for the score. Just one punt was returned more than 10 yards at USU and just two were returned at all. Kicker Colton Cook has hit both his field goal attempts, one in each game, and has averaged 61.7 yards on his kickoffs, including a 60.4 yard average in the heavy air at Cal and 65.0 at USU.

Big Crowd: The paid attendance for SUU’s game at Cal was 57,745, the largest crowd ever to watch a Thunderbird football game. It bettered the 42,137 that watched SUU play San Diego State in 2009.

Thunderbird Quick Hits:

  • After opening the season with back-to-back games at NCAA FBS-level institutions - undoubtedly the most difficult start in SUU football history - the FCS-level Thunderbirds play their lone Division II opponent this week in New Mexico Highlands. Following this week's game the Thunderbirds will remain in their division with eight consecutive Big Sky match-ups to close the 2012 regular season.
  • SUU is in its 50th season as a four-year football-playing institution and its 27th as a member of the NCAA. The 2012 season also marks the Thunderbirds' 20th as a member of the NCAA's Football Championship Subdivision and is the school's first in the Big Sky Conference. SUU competed in the Great West Conference the past eight seasons.
  • The opener at Utah State marked the eighth time in the last 10 seasons the Thunderbirds have played their first game of the season on the road, including the last three in a row. Last year SUU opened at South Dakota State, in 2010 it opened at Wyoming. The other openers at the road during the past 10 years came at Air Force (2008), at Montana (2007), at Idaho State (2005), at Weber State (2004) and in 2003 the opener was at Nevada. The two openers at home were in 2009 against Dixie State and in 2006 when the 'Birds kicked off the season against Montana Tech at Eccles Coliseum.
  • The Thunderbirds have five players returning who earned first-team all-Great West Conference honors last year, including the four preseason all-Americans and linebacker Chad Hansen.
  • SUU has eight returning academic all-GWC honorees, including Larsen, senior offensive linemen Russell Petersen and Dylan Fox, junior defensive lineman Brad Meyer (who had the only 4.0 GPA among football players on the list), junior cornerback Tyree Mills, junior linebacker K.C. Rawlinson, sophomore defensive lineman Kouri Jones and sophomore receiver Easton Pedersen.
  • SUU plays 10 of its 11 games against NCAA Division I opponents this year, with eight against teams from the championship subdivision and two from the bowl subdivision. Utah State and California are the two FBS opponents and SUU faces a Division II opponent for the first time in two seasons when it hosts New Mexico Highlands.
  • About half of the players on the roster are Utah natives, with 45 hailing from the Beehive State. California is the next-most represented state, with 24, while nine call Nevada home. Four players come from Texas, with two from Florida, Idaho and Washington, and one each from Arizona, Colorado and Tonga.

Coaching Lineup: The SUU staff returns almost intact for 2012, with Head Coach Ed Lamb entering his fifth season on the SUU sidelines. The only change in the staff this year is former passing game coordinator Paul Peterson has moved on to take the offensive coordinator duties at Sacramento State. Justin Ena, an NFL veteran and former BYU standout, will  continue as defensive coordinator and will work with linebackers. Former BYU and Utah assistant Steve Clark will again handle offensive coordinator duties. Ryan Hunt, a former all-conference performer at offensive tackle for SUU, returns as defensive line coach while Demario Warren, a former UC Davis running back, returns as secondary coach and has taken some of Peterson's recruiting duties. Teag Whiting, another NFL veteran and former BYU standout, is in his third season as offensive line coach after working as a graduate assistant in 2009. Ronnie Pentz is in his fourth season with the team, his second co-coordinating special teams and his second as tight ends coach after working with the linebackers his first two seasons. Aaron Fernandez, an all-GWC defensive tackle in 2008,  is the co-linebackers coach and co-recruiting coordinator, while former Thunderbird standout WR/KR Justin Wattenscheid enters his third season with the team as co-special teams coordinator and running backs coach. Fesi Sitake, a former all-conference receiver for the Thunderbirds who worked as a student assistant last year, moves into a full-time position this year, working with the team's receivers. 

SUU's Eccles Coliseum is one of two football stadiums in the world sporting both the Olympic Rings and an Olympic Cauldron inside the stadium (The Los Angeles Coliseum is the other). Southern Utah's Olympic Cauldron, donated by DCI Incorporated of Utah, was lit by the Olympic Torch Feb. 5, 2002, during the Olympic Torch Relay.            

Cowboy Notes:

New Mexico Highlands is playing its only game outside of NCAA Division II competition as well as one of just two non-conference games this season when the Cowboys meet the Thunderbirds. The Cowboys' season-opener at home against Eastern New Mexico was their only other non-RMAC tilt in 2012.

In their first two games the Cowboys have dominated on both sides of the ball, piling up a devilish 666 yards of offense last week in a 50-0 rout of Fort Lewis after a 345-yard effort in a 42-14 win over Eastern New Mexico. Defensively the Cowboys held FLC to 166 yards, and they limited ENMU to 248 yards.

The Cowboys have gone with a pair of quarterbacks in the two games. Junior Taylor Genuser (6-3, 210) started and went the distance vs. Eastern New Mexico, while junior Emmanuel Lewis (6-3, 190) was behind center last week at Ft. Lewis. Genuser completed 24-of-37 passes for 287 yards and four touchdowns with two interceptions, while Lewis completed 26-of-46 passes for 346 yards and four TDs and also was picked off twice. Lewis poses much more of a threat on the ground, however, as he carried 14 times for 108 yards and a touchdown last week to lead the team on the ground as well as through the air. Genuser carried six times for minus-11 yards, including four sacks.

WR Keondrick Reynolds (5-11, 185, Sr) leads the team in receptions with 12 (for 81 yards), but WR Kevon Williams (6-0, 170, Sr,) has 10 receptions for a team-high 153 yards and two TDs. WR John Webster (6-0, 195, Sr) has eight catches for 138 yards and a score while De'joshua Johnson (Jr, 5-10, 160) has caught six passes for 51 yards and two TDs.

On the ground the Cowboys have used a variety of backs. Lavelle Peterson (5-9, 225, Jr) carried 20 times for 101 yards and a TD against Ft. Lewis and is the team's overall rushing leader, while Eric Pesante (5-9, 195, Sr) has 18 carries for 80 yards.

Defensively, linebacker Jordan Campbell (6-0, 230, Sr) leads the team with 17 tackles and six tackles for loss and is the co-leader with two sacks. DT Devin Howard (6-3, 260, Sr) and CB Abdul Kanneh (6-0, 170, Sr) are second on the team with 13 tackles and each have 1.5 TFLs. Kanneh also has one of the team's two sacks.