Southern Utah’s Isaiah Wooden scores a touchdown in the 44-13 win over St. Thomas, Cedar City, Utah, September 1, 2022 | Photo courtesy of SUU Athletics, St. George News/Cedar City News
CEDAR TOWN — Football is finally back and the Southern Utah University Thunderbirds have come to play.
Despite allowing a few big plays to start the game, the SUU defense held the St. Thomas Tommies to just 13 points in Thursday night’s season opener at Cedar City.
This, coupled with consistent scoring from the T-Bird offense, led to a 44-13 win to kick off the 2022 campaign and new head coach DeLane Fitzgerald’s tenure at SUU.
After a resounding kick from redshirt senior Jake Garardi to start the game, the Tommies needed just two plays to reach the end zone. The drive consisted of a 60-yard run by second-year running back Hope Adebayo followed by a 15-yard run to the end zone by Shawn Shipman.
This opening drive would account for just over 40% of the Tommies’ total rushing yards for the game, as the T-Bird defense quickly tightens the lanes.
Fitzgerald said of the Tommies’ early score: “Our players had to adapt to the speed of the game. You have to adapt quickly to the speed of the game and that’s what our guys did.
SUU’s offense went to three on their first practice, but a well-placed punt launched the St. Thomas offense deep in their own territory. The Tommies once again sent the ball into midfield, but a clutch tackle from Mitch Price resulted in a turnover on the downs and gave the Thunderbirds a short field to work with, and after nine plays SUU s was content with a basket from Jake Gerardi.
After a seven-play, 27-yard drive, the Tommies were forced to return the ball to the T-Birds who quickly walked down the field. Aided by a 42-yard completion from quarterback Justin Miller to Isaiah Wooden, SUU finished the drive when running back Bobby Cole hit it to make it 10-7.
The Thunderbirds never gave up that lead, scoring on their first drive of the second quarter on a 64-yard pass to Wooden. The four-play, 80-yard practice created a sense of command for the SUU offense.
During their subsequent drive, the Tommies turned the ball over on a fumble from quarterback Cade Sexauer, giving the T-Birds great field position.
SUU kicker Micah Petit added three more points to the Thunderbirds’ scoreboard by scoring a 31-yard field goal to extend the lead to 20-7 before halftime.
“The history of the game is four turnovers to zero turnovers. That’s the difference in this football game,” Fitzgerald said.
The win marked the first time SUU has started a football season with a win since 2013.
St. Thomas, which is a private university located in Houston, Texas, finished with 180 rushing yards and 282 passing yards in the contest. Meanwhile, the Thunderbirds finished with 117 yards rushing and 372 through the air. Miller completed 23 of 35 passes for 364 yards and three touchdowns. Wooden had five catches for 142 yards and two touchdowns. Josh Dunn and Roderick Ward led the SUU defense with six tackles apiece.
The SUU Thunderbirds next travel to Salt Lake City on September 10 to take on the University of Utah. The Utes are ranked No. 7 in the nation heading into Saturday’s game in Florida.
Written by Regan Hunsaker, SUU assistant athletic director for sports information and communications.
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