College football: SUU Thunderbirds soar higher than top-ranked Eastern Washington Eagles
CEDAR CITY — Southern Utah senior quarterback Brad Sorensen threw for a season-high 392 yards and Colton Cook hit a 36-yard game-winning field goal Saturday as the Thunderbirds knocked off Eastern Washington, the top-ranked team in the Football Championship Subdivision, 30-27 on Saturday at Eccles Stadium.
Southern Utah overcame a 27-20 fourth-quarter deficit by scoring 10 points in the final 7:01 to claim the Big Sky Conference victory.
After playing to a 13-13 tie at halftime, EWU took a 20-13 lead on Demitrius Bronson's 4-yard touchdown run. Southern Utah answered with a nine-play, 86-yard drive capped by Lavell Ika's 1-yard run to tie it again at 20.
Then it was Eastern Washington's turn, as the Eagles took a 27-20 lead on an 18-yard pass from Vernon Adams to Ashton Clark.
Coming off a disappointing league loss to Weber State, SUU (4-5, 3-3 Big Sky) was driving for a potential game-tying TD when Sorensen's pass was intercepted by McKenzie Murphey at the EWU 3-yard line.
But moments later, the Thunderbirds' Trever McFalls forced a Bronson fumble and SUU teammate Zak Browning recovered at the Eagles' 12.
Southern Utah tied it up when Sorensen hit Fatu Moala on a 21-yard touchdown pass with 7:01 to play.
Then when Eastern Washington's Jimmy Pavel missed a 37-yard field goal with 2:51 to go — his first miss of the season — the Thunderbirds took over and put together the winning drive.
SUU ran the ball eight times and threw it just once — a 15-yard completion from Sorensen to C.J. Morgan — in driving from its own 20 to the Eagles' 19-yard line. With three seconds on the clock, and after a timeout by each team, Cook calmly stepped up and hit the go-ahed field goal for the win.
"It felt good right off my foot," Cook said. "I knew when I kicked it, it was good. I knew right away."
Even though Southern Utah has struggled to run the ball this season, SUU coach Ed Lamb said they were determined to keep the ball on the ground and run out the clock on that final drive.
"We had been slipping in the run effectively for quite some time," he said. "Brad was throwing the ball at a great clip, and the receivers were on and our pass protection was really good, but we knew we could slip in some runs.
"And I think that rhythm we were in was really good. ... I think we had confidence that we could run against their team. So, at the right time, when it was a no-brainer to run the ball, we were able to do it. We got into some bigger sets and flexed our muscle a little bit."
Cook's game-winning kick wasn't the only big contribution from the Thunderbirds' special teams. The opening score of the game came when SUU redshirt freshman Miles Killebrew blocked a punt and then returned it 41 yards for a first-quarter touchdown. Cook was 3-for-4 in field goals on the day, hitting three straight after misfiring from 42 yards out in the first period.
Brian Wilson led the T-birds' rushing attack with 93 yards on 20 carries. Moala finished with 10 receptions for 112 yards and the touchdown as SUU finished with a season-high 492 yards of total offense. Sorensen wound up completing 33-of-43 passes with one TD and one interception.
Defensively, Browning led the way for the Thunderbirds with 15 tackles, while Jeff Tukuafu had a pair of sacks and LeShaun Sims had an interception.
Eastern Washington had a five-game winning streak snapped, falling to 6-2 overall and 5-1 in the Big Sky.
"Everybody in the Big Sky has been playing close games all year. It's a tough conference," said EWU coach Beau Baldwin. "Every team has 63 scholarships and it is hard to win every week. If you are a little off and the other team makes a few more plays, you can be in trouble."
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