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With 11 seconds left and a chance to tie up the game, Southern Utah quarterback Brad Sorensen threw an interception in the back of the end zone giving North Dakota the 26-20 victory over the Thunderbirds Saturday afternoon.
"They (coaches) wanted to take a shot, and we didn't have any timeouts or much time left," Sorensen said. "We tried to go for the end zone, and it seems like the guy made a good play on it."
SUU started its final drive on its own 19-yard line with 44 seconds left to play in the game. The T-Birds drove 59 yards in five plays right before UND Fighting Sioux cornerback Daryl Brown made the interception on Sorensen's intended pass to wide receiver Jared Ursua.
Sorensen said UND played like they wanted it and deserved to win.
"They're a good team and came here ready for us," Sorensen said. "This is one of their big games on the schedule, and they had us circled since last year. They came out and shut the run down pretty good, and they made more plays than us today."
SUU Head Coach Ed Lamb said the T-Birds didn't come out mentally tough.
"I think our guys certainly tried hard at the end to get the win," Lamb said. "I think early on they tried to get by with a minimum effort required, and that's a recipe for a disaster. If we play like this again, then there is no team that we can beat on our schedule."
SUU had eight penalties for 80 yards, and Lamb said they let penalties continue to punish their chances.
"I didn't think we were very focused and had too many personal foul penalties is usually an indication that our guys are trying to get by the cheap way instead of working for a victory," Lamb said. "North Dakota's a good enough team without us giving them free yards on penalties."
The T-Birds had chances to regain the momentum but fundamental issues prevented them from doing so.
"We just missed too many opportunities," Sorensen said. "We had a couple dropped catches and sacks, muffed punt and field goal and a bad snap. We should've got points on all three of those drives."
Lamb said the special teams didn't play well giving UND opportunities all day.
"It was a bad day on special teams, and those groups have been really solid for us," Lamb said. "Today we had a tough time punting it and snapping it and gave North Dakota a lot of plays."
UND scored 16 unanswered points to start the game. SUU's Tate Lewis lost the snap out of the back of the end zone for a safety to give them the early 2-0 lead.
The Fighting Sioux built on the 2-0 lead with a 34-yard touchdown run by running back Jake Miller and a 26-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Joey Bradley to wide receiver Greg Hardin.
SUU was finally able to get on the board with 4:52 to play in the second quarter with a 6-yard touchdown pass from Sorensen to running back Deckar Alexander. The T-Birds lessened the deficit to 16-13 with a 10-yard pass from Sorensen to fullback Daryl Brown midway through the third quarter.
Miller scored on a 3-yard touchdown rush early in the fourth quarter to extend the Fighting Sioux lead to 26-13.
SUU came within six points of UND with a 4-yard touchdown pass from Sorensen to tight end Abbel Aiono with 4:34 to play in the game.
Sorensen made 38-for-54 completions for 353 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.
UND's Miller led the team with 32 carries for 163 yards and two touchdowns. The T-Birds record falls to 3-2 overall and 0-1 in conference, while UND lifts to 3-2 overall and 1-0 in the Great West Conference.
Sorensen said the T-Birds have their work cut out for them if they want to defend their conference title.
"We've got to focus on South Dakota now, and it's not an easy place to play," he said. "Hopefully, we can win out the rest of the (conference) games and take it one game at a time. Conference isn't over yet."