With the win the Lumberjacks improved to 7-1 in Big Sky play (9-2 overall) while the Thunderbirds dipped to 5-3 in the league and 8-4 overall.
“I’m extremely proud of what the guys accomplished this season,” SUU Coach Ed Lamb said. “I think to be able to have an extreme emotion in a last game, of exuberance, or in this case disappointment, means its been a good season. The guys played themselves into a meaningful game and there’s a lot of heartbreak in the locker room right now … but the thing I’m proud of is they put themselves in the position to care in the final game of the season.
“We had a poor end to the game, weren’t able to finish out the game, but the best team won, their team was better today, they made fewer mistakes down the stretch,” he added. “We had a few miscues from guys who don’t usually make miscues but it happens. It happened today and that was the game.”
Southern Utah scored the first 10 points of the game but the Lumberjacks took advantage of a muffed punt by SUU to pull within 10-3 on a 29-yard Andy Wilder field goal, then tied the game in the fourth quarter after a short punt set them up on the 29-yard line.
The touchdown came on a 25-yard pass from Kyren Poe to Nick Cole. The pass appeared to hit the ground before it was caught and SUU’s defender stopped pursuing the play. The officials conferred and determined that it was a clean catch, however, and the play stood.
An Austin Hasquet interception of a Mike Sharp pass at the SUU 25 on the Thunderbirds’ ensuing drive led to another Wilder field goal, giving NAU a 13-10 advantage.
SUU had two opportunities to tie or take the lead but the first drive ended at the NAU 41 yard line when Aaron Cantu’s pass for Easton Pedersen was long and the second ended when Blair Wishom intercepted a pass and returned it 52 yards for a touchdown and the final points of the game.
Early on it was the Thunderbirds who were the beneficiaries of breaks, by the special teams, as a blocked field goal led to the only score of the first half. James Cowser blocked a 38-yard Wilder attempt and Tyree Mills scooped it up and returned it 38 yards to the NAU 34 yard line. The Thunderbirds then put together an eight-play drive that put the Thunderbirds up 7-0 when Raysean Martin ran four yards off the left end for the score.
Chris Robinson had a key 8-yard run on the drive as he fought off a tackle then dragged another tackler two yards to give the Thunderbirds a first-and-goal situation at the 10 yard line.
SUU made it a 10-0 game with a 32-yard Colton Cook field goal in the third quarter – the 51st of his career – after Andrew Eide blocked a Wilder punt and Tommy Collet Jr. returned it 26 yards to the Northern Arizona 34 yard line.
Lamb was philosophical when talking about the team’s playoff chances after the loss.
“I think our guys approached it like a playoff game, so I think our guys continuing on in the program are going to have a more clear idea of what it means to be in this kind of an environment and how quickly a win can go from a win to a loss,” he noted. “I think our seniors have left a legacy of an expectation of playing in big games in late November and playing in playoffs, so, if on the outside chance we receive an invitation or a bid, we’ll be ready.”