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CEDAR CITY, Utah -- With its first Big Sky Conference win under its belt, the Southern Utah football team returns home, eying an upset of FCS No. 2 Montana State at its Homecoming Game Saturday afternoon at Eccles Coliseum.
"It was a great way to start the conference," SUU defensive lineman Nick Nissen said. "It gave us a lot of confidence to carry on throughout the (rest of) conference, but we have to put that in the past and look forward to a really good Montana State team."
The Thunderbirds (2-2, 1-0 Big Sky) is coming off back-to-back victories, including a 49-42 nail-biter at Portland State last week. In the victory, the T-Birds went ahead on a touchdown with 1:35 left in regulation, then won after stopping the Vikings four times at the goal line at the end of regulation.
Although the entire defense helped stopping the Vikings on the final play of regulation, Nissen was credited for making the stop as time expired.
"It took quite awhile under the pile (for the officials to make the call) — we were all under the pile for a good (amount of time) until they finally decided it," Nissen said, recalling the stop to win the game. "It was a good relief — a good feeling and a big win for us."
During the game, SUU quarterback Brad Sorensen became only the second quarterback in school history to surpass the 7,000-yard mark in a career. Sorensen threw for 311 yards and four touchdowns in the win.
After a slow start to the season, Sorensen has totaled 11 touchdowns in his past three games, and is well on his way to breaking his own personal record of 21 touchdown passes set in 2010.
Sorensen found wide receiver Mitch Jessop for two long scores, including a 39-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 42-42 in the fourth quarter.
Jessop's 159-yard game became proof that Sorensen is beginning to find more targets on the field to throw to.
"There's been a lot of time working after practice with (Sorensen)," Jessop said. "There's confidence there. When a play is needed, that's when you rely on all the practice you've done."
SUU wide receiver Josh Smith, who returned the opening kickoff of the second half 95 yards to tie the game 28-28, won Big Sky Special Teams Player of the Week for his 173 yards on kick returns. Head Coach Ed Lamb likened his crucial game-tying touchdown to something out of a video game.
"It's like when you start bad on John Madden and you push restart button and you get a new game," he said. "That's what we had — a new game."
The T-Birds will now look to carry its two-game winning streak back to Cedar City, against Montana State in SUU's Homecoming Game.
Taking down the Bobcats (4-0, 1-0 Big Sky) is no easy task.
"They're good all over the place," Lamb said. "They wouldn't be rated that highly if they had a bunch of weaknesses. They have a bunch of good players, their quarterback particularly. He can really run, he makes their whole offensive work … you have to earn everything you get against those guys."
The T-Bird defense will have to focus on quarterback DeNarius McGee, who has accumulated 1,044 yards passing with nine touchdowns and four interceptions thus far in the season. McGee also has gained 171 yards and added three more touchdowns on the ground this season.
"We have to get pressure on the quarterback," Nissen said. "We have to close the pocket and not let him run. He's a really good running quarterback — just have to contain him and we'll do alright."
On offense, Sorensen will look to continue his strong play from his last three starts, but SUU will also look run to ball as well.
Jessop said he thinks the offense will click as long as the T-Birds run a balanced attack Saturday.
"We've been working on a lot of routs that we think we can find weaknesses in their defensive zones," he said. "They play the pass first it seems like, so we're hoping we can get the running game going to open up the passing game."
Kickoff against Montana State is slated for 1:30 p.m. at Eccles Coliseum. It will be broadcast live on ROOT Sports as the Big Sky Game of the Week.