OGDEN — If this is any indication of things to come for Southern Utah University, then the Thunderbirds are going to thoroughly enjoy joining the Big Sky Conference next year.
Austin Minefee, SUU's versatile senior running back, ran for 88 yards and two touchdowns, caught six passes for 86 yards and another TD, and added 112 yards on three kickoff returns.
But perhaps most importantly, he came up with a crucial end-zone tackle on a bizarre safety following an interception that helped turn thingas in the T-birds' favor as Southern Utah rallied for a 35-28 victory over Weber State on Saturday at Stewart Stadium.
Southern Utah, which officially becomes a member of the Big Sky next July, squared its season record at 4-4 with the rousing road victory — just the third time in 14 tries that the Thunderbirds have come away from Ogden with a win — while the Wildcats fell to 3-4 with their first home-field loss of the year.
"I think it was just an overall mood of being tired of losing," Minefee said of the T-birds' second-half comeback, when they rallied from an 11-point deficit. "There wasn't a lot said. Everybody was looking around and it was pretty silent. Then our defensive coaches came in and said, 'It's not our game to lose. We're tired of losing.' So we there was just an overall feeling that we had to come back and battle.
"There was no tomorrow for us, especially because we start playing these guys every year beginning next season."
Turns out the SUU coaching staff was right, thanks to a spirited second-half comeback and some strange plays that occurred after halftime.
"These guys picked me up at halftime," SUU coach Ed Lamb said. "There was never a doubt in their minds that they were going to win. ... No doubt about it, it was an outstanding effort by our guys in the second half. And that's what it takes to beat a great team like Weber State.
"One of the things we're going to find out is what the competition's like week after week in this conference, playing in this type of venue with a great crowd."
WSU coach Ron McBride looked mighty frustrated in the postgame interview room, especially after his team squandered a double-digit lead and, for the second straight week, committed double-digit penalties.
"Give them credit," McBride said of the Thunderbirds. "They made the plays they had to make to win the game, and we didn't. ... Southern Utah came in here to play, and they don't do a lot of stupid stuff to give the game away.
They did a better job of coaching their team than we did with our team. ...
They came in here and outplayed us.
"I think we're a better team, and you should never lose a game at home. It's unacceptable."
Weber State led 21-17 late in the third quarter when SUU quarterback Brad Sorensen, forced to scramble after a bad snap, rifled a long pass toward the WSU end zone. Wildcat junior cornerback Jarret Gooden went up and picked off Sorensen's pass, tried to return it out of the end zone, and wound up getting pulled down from behind by Minefee.
After the officials conferred for a minute, the play was ruled a safety, trimming Weber's lead to 21-19 and feeding the Thunderbirds' new-found momentum.
"I was relieved, so relieved, man," Sorensen said of the ruling on the play.
"That was a big play."
"It was the finest interception you've ever thrown," Lamb jokingly told his junior quarterback, who threw for 201 yards and a touchdown and ran for another score.
On Weber State's next possession, the T-birds' Kaden Carli blocked the Wildcats' punt and Mi Tagliaferri returned it 18 yards to the WSU 2.
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