Southern Utah misses last-minute field goal, loses first conference game

ST. GEORGE — SUU lost a close game to the Cal Poly Mustangs on Saturday 24-21.

“Tough loss, I didn’t have the guys ready to play,” head coach Demario Warren said. “We weren’t prepared, and we fell behind early. You don’t want to fall behind early to Cal Poly with the wind. They made one more play than we did, and they won the football game.”

As kickoff approached, the wind was howling in Cedar City.

The wind affected SUUs decision making early as they got into FG range but decided to go for it on fourth and four. The Thunderbirds were unable to convert, and the Mustangs took over on downs.

Cal Poly proceeded to march down the field, kicking a field goal into the wind to make it 3-0, and that would be the only score of the first quarter.

SUU vs Cal Poly, Cedar City, Utah. Sept. 29, 2019 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

The Mustangs started quickly in the second with a Jalen Hamler 6yd TD run making it 10-0 with 10 minutes to go in the half.

SUU was finally able to score with 6:47 remaining in the half, on a 24-yard pass from Chris Helbig to Zach Nelson. That would be the only Thunderbirds score of the first half.

With that touchdown reception, the true freshman became the team leader in touchdown receptions with three.

“That’s awesome,” senior center Zach Larson said. “I love seeing those guys go out there and fight. They give the effort that we need to win games. They might make mental mistakes sometimes, but I like to see that they’re giving effort, and that means a lot to me as a senior.”

Coach Warren is high on his young players as well, but he doesn’t want to win in three years, he’s trying to win now.

“We’ve got a lot of great young players, he’s one of them,” Warren said. “Lance Lawson is a sophomore, John Mitchell caught a 56-yard touchdown today, he’s another true freshman. A ton of sophomores and freshman playing on defense. Guys fight, they work hard, just disappointed we couldn’t pull out the win for them.”

Jalen Hamler added another rushing TD with 24 seconds left in the half, as Cal Poly led 17-7.

The SUU defense forced their second fumble of the night and recovered it, leading to a Jay Green 20-yard touchdown run. The Thunderbirds missed the PAT, but were only down four, 17-13.

SUU vs Cal Poly, Cedar City, Utah. Sept. 29, 2019 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

Cal Poly starting quarterback Hamler went out with some sort of injury, but Jake Jeffrey came in and marched the Mustangs down the field for another touchdown early in the fourth. SUU scored on the ensuing drive after a big play from Helbig to Lawson for the 56-yard touchdown with 11:59 remaining.

The game became quiet until SUU went for it on fourth and three from the 11-yard line. They were able to convert, and it looked like they were going to ride the momentum for a touchdown to take the lead. Cal Poly stopped them short, and the Thunderbirds went for the field goal to tie the game.

Kekoa Sasoka came out for the kick, and he missed the field goal after it bounced off the left upright. The crowd at Eccles coliseum seemed shocked.

“I think coach Warren said it best after the game. We can’t blame other people, we got to look at ourselves first, and look at what we can do better as an individual,” Larson said. “The offense, we should have scored a ton more, the kicker shouldn’t have had to make that game-tying field goal.”

Cal Poly took over, converted one first down and came out in the victory formation. The final score was 24-21 in favor of the Mustangs.

Although the Thunderbirds lost, the defense showed some gusto, as they forced four fumbles, recovering three of them.

“We needed a turnover, we needed some kind of spark on defense,” senior defensive lineman Lehi Afatasi said. “Those fumble recoveries really helped out, pushing us momentum wise for the offense.”

Since Cal Poly ran a triple option offense, this game film will be rather useless for both SUU and their upcoming opponent, Portland State.

“We’ve got to watch film,” Warren said. “Offensively we got to see what they do. I think they’re a little bit more man, and then we have to go back to South Dakota state because they’re not going to watch this film. Just going back trying to re-teach all of our base defenses and figure out how we can go execute for 60 minutes.”

SUU goes back on the road Saturday against Portland state for their second Big Sky game of the year with kickoff scheduled for 3 p.m. MST.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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