T-Birds Top PSU For First Big Sky Win

Southern Utah started slowly but finished strong Saturday night and the result was a 49-42 win at Portland State in the Thunderbirds' Big Sky Conference opener. With the win, SUU's first at Portland State as well as its first in the Big Sky, the Thunderbirds improved to 2-2 overall while PSU dipped to 1-3, 0-1 in conference play.

The Thunderbirds fell behind by 18-points in the first-quarter, but rallied to pull within eight at halftime, then outscored the Vikings 29-14 in the second half when sophomore wide receiver Mitch Jessop caught six passes for 110 yards and his first two college touchdowns.

SUU tied the game with Jessop's second touchdown, then took its first lead, 49-42, on a one-yard Lavel Ika run with 1:35 to play. The T-Birds had to hold on, however, as PSU drove to the SUU two-yard line, where the Vikings had first and goal with 18 seconds to play. SUU's defense held, however, allowing DJ Adams to get to the one on first down, but then knocking down two passes before stuffing Viking quarterback Kieran McDonagh on fourth down as time expired.

"I'm really proud of the way my assistants taught the guys and prepared the guys and I'm proud of the effort our guys gave in the game," SUU Head Coach Ed Lamb said. The goal line stand "is not the way I would have liked to have ended after we scored. I didn't say 'hey, let's let them march down, then get a goal-line stand,' but what a great moment for the guys. That's the epitome of bend but don't break on the final drive.

"It was a nice call by Coach [Justin] Ena, he put a guy in every gap and we thought they were going to sneak it on one of those plays, we thought they'd go on the first one and ensure the touchdown but I guess they didn't have the confidence they could do that, and our guys just kept pushing," Lamb pointed out. "It had to have been as close as it could have possibly been."

The Vikings dominated the first quarter, scoring touchdowns on all three of their drives to take a SUU 21-3 lead into the second period. PSU converted 4-of-4 times on third down in the quarter and piled up 220 yards of offense while holding SUU to 70. After capping the opening drive of the game with a 35-yard touchdown pass from McDonagh to Kalua Noa, the Vikings got a pair of rushing touchdowns from Shaquille Richard while SUU could only muster a 21-yard Colton Cook field goal.

The Thunderbirds began the comeback in the second period, scoring on a 39-yard Cook field goal, then taking advantage of LeShaun Sims' second interception of the season on PSU's ensuing possession to further cut into the lead. Sims pulled the ball away from PSU receiver Alex Toureen at the PSU 40 as the players went to the ground and the Thunderbirds were able to turn the possession into a touchdown as Sorensen found Easton Pedersen on an 18-yard crossing pattern for the score five plays later.

PSU pushed its lead to 28-13 with 2:00 to play in the period when Adams ran 16 yards for a score, but the Thunderbird quick-strike offense answered back with its best drive of the half when it got the ball.

The Thunderbirds went 90 yards in six plays, with Brad Sorensen completing four of seven passes - including a 36-yarder to Jessop - and getting the benefit of a pass interference call, before he hit Brian Wilson on a short pattern across the middle and Wilson powered his way into the end zone to pull SUU within 28-20.

Josh Smith sparked the Thunderbirds coming out of the break, taking the opening kickoff of the second half 95 yards for a touchdown to tie the game at 28-28 after a Sorensen-to-Griff McNabb pass for a two-point conversion.

Portland State answered with a touchdown, but SUU answered when Sorensen found Jessop along the right sideline for a 29-yard scoring strike to knot the score again at 35-35 with 4:45 to go in the third period. 

NOTES: Southern Utah had two interceptions in the first half, Sims' and one by Randall Nygren, who got under a ball tipped by J.T. Anderson when a PSU fake punt play went awry. It was the first interception of Nygren's career ... Jessop finished with a career-high159 receiving yards and his first career TD reception in the game. It was the team's first 100-yard receiving effort of the season and its first 150-yard effort since Fesi Sitake had 174 yard in the final game of the 2011 season at Eastern Washington ... SUU finished with 397 yards of offense as Sorensen completed 27-of-36 passes for 311 yards and four touchdowns ... PSU finished with 587 yards, 317 on the ground, but did not have an individual gain 100 yards ... Miles Killebrew led SUU with a career-high 15 taackles, while Ricky Clark had 12 and both Zak Browning and James Cowser had 10.