Southern Utah on the verge of GWC title

By October 26, 2010

Enterprise staff writer

Two weeks ago, Southern Utah sat at 1-4 on the season and was down 14-0 after less than seven minutes had elapsed in North Dakota.

Things are completely different for the Thunderbirds in the present. They came back to beat the Fighting Sioux by 10; then Cal Poly, 20-7; and then South Dakota, 31-13 on Saturday.

Southern Utah has evened its overall record at 4-4 but, more importantly, sits at 3-0 in the Great West Conference and is a win away from its first league championship. By beating UC Davis at Aggie Stadium, the Thunderbirds would complete a perfect conference slate, though they can still win the title later with a loss if things break right.

ÒIt feels great for our team,Ó Southern Utah head coach Ed Lamb said during MondayÕs Great West teleconference. ÒThe season started out with some real disappointments in games we could have won but didnÕt make the plays. We feel very fortunate to be in this position.Ó

Over the last three games, Southern Utah has been clicking offensively.

Thunderbirds quarterback Brad Sorensen has completed 75-of-99 passes for 897 yards and four touchdowns over that stretch while the offense has averaged 442 yards per game. The sophomore has completed 64 percent of his throws on the season for 2,087 yards and 11 TDs.

Against the Coyotes, Southern Utah got its ground game going as well, as Austin Minefee rushed for 137 yards on 17 carries Ñ including a career-long 57-yard scamper Ñ while Deckar Alexander added 75. In all, the Thunderbirds added 241 rushing yards on 35 attempts.

For his efforts, Minefee was named Great West Conference Offensive Player of the Week. It was his third 100-yard game of the season and he also had one catch for seven yards.

ÒAustin deserves a lot of credit for turning some plays we thought were blocked for three- or four-yard gains into longer runs,Ó Lamb said. ÒHeÕs been reliable for us in the running game.Ó

The conference championship race is down to three teams, with UCD (3-4, 1-0) and Cal Poly (5-3, 1-1) also in the mix. North Dakota (2-5, 0-3) and South Dakota (3-5,1-2) have been eliminated fromtitle contention.

If the Aggies hold serve at home and take down Southern Utah, theyÕll move into the driverÕs seat, but they still face a very tough road game at Cal Poly on Nov. 13. UCD also has to make a tough trip to North Dakota while Cal Poly still has to play at South Dakota.

Cal Poly gets GWC win: Behind backup quarterback Tony Smith Ñ in for the injured Andre Broadous Ñ the Mustangs got off to a quick start and then came back in the second half in a 22-21 win over North Dakota at Spanos Stadium.

The Mustangs led 13-0 midway through the second quarter after a Mark Rodgers 42-yard run but the Fighting Sioux needed only 18 seconds to score and ran off the next 21 points. But Jake West booted a 22-yard field goal to end the third quarter and Rodgers punched it in from two yards out early in the fourth.

Smith finished 12-of-16 for 80 yards but Cal Poly ran for 249 yards, led by RodgersÕ 94-yard effort. Three other Mustangs had at least 49 yards on the ground.

ÒThis is one of those games where we were in control statistically but the scoreboard is where it counts,Ó said Cal Poly head coach Tim Walsh. ÒThey had the momentum in the third quarter but we did enough to get the win in the fourth.Ó

Players of the Week: Southern Utah defensive end Tyler Osborne broke the linebacker monopoly on the GWC Defensive Player of the Week award.

He had 4.5 tackles-for-loss including 1.5 sacks, two quarterback hurries and one pass broken up in Southern UtahÕs victory over North Dakota. He finished with six total tackles in the game to become the first non-linebacker to win the defensive award.

South Dakota kicker Kevin Robb made both of his field goals during the loss to the Thunderbirds, including a career-long 49-yarder, and was named Special Teams Player of the Week.

Home cooking: For the second straight week, the Great West has as many home games as possible considering the matchups.

The Thunderbirds are the only Great West team to hit the road this week, playing at UCD in the lone conference tilt. North Dakota hosts Lamar, South Dakota takes on Northern Colorado and St. Francis (Pennsylvania) plays at Cal Poly.

Rankings: Cal Poly jumped up a spot in both polls, rising to No. 20 in the FCS Coaches Poll and to No. 22 in The Sports NetworkÕs Top-25.

Southern Utah (No. 36), UCD (t-No. 49) and South Dakota (t-No. 52) all received votes in TSNÕs poll. The Thunderbirds are also ranked 38th by the coaches.

UCDÕs Causeway rival, Sacramento State, got votes in both polls and is ranked No. 46 by TSN and No. 42 by the coaches.

Ñ Reach Conor Tekautz at [email protected] or (530) 747-8049. Comment on this story or check out The Enterprise sports blog at www.davisenterprise.com. To view photo galleries and purchase prints of UCD football visit http://photos.davisenterprise.com

Conor Tekautz

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