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CEDAR CITY -- For the second year in a row, junior strong safety Akeem Anifowoshe's fumble-recovering prowess helped lead the T-Birds to a victory over Texas State.
In the second quarter of Saturday's game, he picked up a fumble on first and goal and returned it 99 yards for a touchdown -- an SUU record. The T-Birds never looked back, beating the No. 19 Bobcats 38-16.
Anifowoshe had two fumble recoveries in the 2008 meeting between the teams, earning Great West Conference Defensive Player of The Week accolades for his performance.
The T-Birds (2-3) were leading 14-7 with the Bobcats (2-2) threatening to tie the score, when TSU sophomore slot back Alvaro Garcia fumbled on first-and-goal and Anifowoshe scooped it up and returned it for a score to give the T-Birds a 14-point lead.
"It was a stretch play to the outside and I saw him trying to stretch it out for the end zone," he said. "One of my teammates knocked the ball out of hands and I just tried to pick it up before the refs tried to blow it dead and take it the distance."
SUU football coach Ed Lamb said the fumble recovery changed the defensive momentum, helping the T-Birds relax after the Bobcats moved the ball well early on.
"I think it helped us to get in a situation where we knew what they had to do," he said. "Early on in the game, our guys were still playing a little bit timid, not getting into their checks quickly. After that score, it gave our guys a chance to relax a little bit and say 'hey we've got the lead. We might be in a shootout, but we've got a two-score lead now.'"
A field goal by senior kicker Ryan Griffith shortly before halftime gave the T-Birds a 17-point lead. From that point, the Bobcats never got closer than 15 points behind SUU.
Including his second-quarter field goal, Griffith had hit all 11 of his field goal attempts on the season. He would later miss two field goals, however, ending his bid for a perfect season.
The T-Birds as a team created four turnovers while only giving the ball up once to offset being out-gained on offense 412-387. The T-Birds were balanced on offense with 256 passing yards and 132 rushing yards, while the Bobcats racked up 209 passing yards and 203 rushing yards, led by honorable -mention All-American junior running back Karrington Bush, who, until Saturday, hadn't played since the Bobcats' first game because of injury.
Junior wide receiver Tysson Poots said the offense is confident after scoring 30-plus points for the fourth time in five games this season.
"We feel like we can do whatever is needed," Poots said. "If we need to run it, we're going to run it; if we need to pass it, we're going to pass it."
The T-Birds converted 8 of 14 third downs and 1 of 2 fourth downs. Their only turnover came on their second fourth down try of the game when senior quarterback Cade Cooper fumbled while running a quarterback sneak on a fourth-and-1 in the second quarter.
Cooper completed 27 of 42 pass attempts for 256 yards and three touchdowns. Poots was his favorite target, collecting 11 catches for 120 yards and a score. Junior wide receiver Fesi Sitake and junior running back Major Gray also caught touchdown passes from Cooper.
Gray also scored a rushing touchdown while leading the team in rushing with 91 yards on 21 carries.
The T-Birds now have a week off before opening Great West play at No. 17 Cal Poly on Oct. 17. Poots said the win will provide a boost going into the bye week.
"We're going into the bye week confident and going into the conference confident," he said. "We're on a high right now. It feels good to get our anger out from those losses."
Anifowoshe said the team can't spend too much time celebrating the victory.
"We can ride on confidence right now," he said. "Right now we're riding on cloud nine, but we can't enjoy this for too long. We lost three games early in the season; we've got a losing record right now and we're trying to turn it around to get a winning record."
Anifowoshe and Poots each said getting healthy will be the most important thing for the T-Birds in the bye week.
"We've got a couple players that are banged up right now," Anifowoshe said. "It gives us a couple extra days to get our bumps and bruises healed up."
Lamb said during the bye week, the T-Birds must "take another giant step forward" on defense.
"Cal Poly's a very, very good offensive football team, and so far this year it looks like they've played really solid defense as well," he said.
Lamb said he likes the way the schedule is set up.
"We would do it like this every year if we could: take all of our conference games right in a row immediately following a bye week and then several games early in the season to really have a chance to learn some things."