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News releaseCEDAR CITY -- An early glimmer of hope for Division II Dixie State was snuffed out by a pair of controversial plays and the size and strength took over late as Southern Utah University beat the Red Storm 36-7 Thursday night from Eccles Coliseum.
Trailing 13-7 late in the first half, Dixie State's Skyler Ence bobbled a completed pass and seemed to trap the ball against his helmet (a la David Tyree in the Super Bowl) at the 32-yard line. With one official ruling Ence down, but not blowing his whistle, SUU's Rob Takeno picked up the football and returned it into the end zone with 1:18 to go in the first half.
After much discussion, the officials ruled 'inadvertent whistle' and gave the Thunderbirds the ball at the Dixie State 10-yard line.
Three plays later, SUU quarterback Ammon Olsen found Jared Ursua for the score to make it 20-7. "I'm not going to blame the officials, but that was certainly a big play that changed the momentum of the game," Dixie State head coach Ron Haun said. "One official came in blowing his whistle. The call should have been either down or touchdown."
Moments later Ence tried to atone for the turnover, catching a pass inside the SUU 5-yard line, and reaching for the pylon as time expired in the first half. The officials ruled that Ence was out of bounds before he leaned the ball over the end line, leaving Dixie frustrated and behind 20-7 going into the break.
"I'm a receiver and I'm always going to say I was in," Ence said. "Football is a game of inches and I guess we missed that one by just inches."
The T-Birds then crushed the upset-minded Red Storm with power football in the second half. SUU out-gained Dixie State 197-15 in yardage in the third quarter alone, improving the lead to 30-7 on a TD catch by Fesi Sitake and a field goal by Ryan Griffith.
Redshirt sophomore Austin Minefee rushed hard behind a dominant SUU offensive line. He carried 27 times for 147 yards (5.4 yards per game). Quarterback Cade Cooper, who started for the Thunderbirds, passed for 179 yards and a pair of scores and rushed for another 48 yards.
Cooper, originally from Lehi, played junior college ball at Snow College. He also spent some time at BYU and Oregon before ending up at SUU for his senior year.
The game didn't live up to the hype as it was the renewal of a rivalry that died 47 years ago when Southern Utah upgraded to a four-year school. An Eccles Coliseum record-crowd of 10,028 was on hand to watch the T-Birds play Dixie State, which upgraded to a Division II four years ago.
(Courtesy Dixie State)