T-Birds top Fighting Sioux 35-10 in Homecoming game

T-Birds top Fighting Sioux 35-10 in Homecoming game

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CEDAR CITY -- Cade Cooper passed for 295 yards and four touchdowns Saturday to lead the SUU T-Birds to a Homecoming victory over the North Dakota Fighting Sioux.

Cooper completed 31 of 45 passes with one interception. Running back Austin Minefee and wide receivers Fesi Sitake and Tysson Poots caught the majority of the passes from Cooper, who completed balls to nine different players.

With the victory, the T-Birds are 3-4, 1-1 in Great West play, while the Sioux are also 3-4, 1-1 in the Great West.

Minefee caught eight passes for 61 yards and a touchdown to go with his 44 rushing yards, while Sitake and Poots each caught seven passes; Sitake had 102 yards and a score and Poots had 61 yards and two scores.

Sitake said the T-Birds were playing with a chip on their shoulders after losing to Cal Poly.

"You can't help but expect to play that way, especially coming off a loss like we did at Cal Poly," he said. "You just want to play that much harder when you lose that close; you want it a little bit more.

Poots' seven catches gives him 155 for his career, tying the SUU record previously held solely by Doug Berry, who played from 1967 to 1970.

Cooper has now passed for at least 250 yards and three touchdowns in five straight games. His 20 touchdowns this season are one short of tying the SUU single-season record.

"It's not just me," Cooper said. "The credit goes out to everyone."

Running back Major Gray led the way on the ground with 75 yards on 11 carries. The T-Birds have rushed for 932 yards in seven games, 259 yards more than the 673 they ran for in 11 games in 2008.

The T-Birds used a stout pass defense to shut down the Sioux, intercepting two passes while allowing the duo of Jake Landry and Brent Goska to complete only 10 of 25 passes for 126 yards. The bulk of North Dakota's 212 rushing yards were from Landry, who mostly on scrambles carried the ball 12 times for 81 yards and Goska, who used mostly quarterback draws to gain 74 yards on 10 carries.

"The defense played really well," SUU football coach Ed Lamb said. "I think that's more three-and-outs than we've ever had since I've been the coach here. The secondary was really superb; the defensive line did a good job against the run. We still need to work to get a better pass rush on the quarterback, but tonight it was adequate."

A missed field goal by UND's Brandon Hellevang and a muffed punt by UND's Ryan Dressler in the second quarter helped turn the momentum of the game back in the T-Birds' favor.

The T-Birds were up 14-3 and went three-and-out before a high snap caused punter Trevor Ward to rush for a 14-yard loss, giving the Sioux first-and-goal at the 8-yard line. The Sioux weren't able to capitalize and pull within one score, however, as Hellevang missed a 33-yard field goal wide left.

After the T-Birds went three-and-out again on their next possession, Dressler muffed the ensuing punt and SUU safety Akeem Anifowoshe recovered on the Sioux 27-yard line.

Cooper threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to running back Austin Minefee three plays later, giving SUU a 21-3 cushion at the half.

In the second half, the Sioux still couldn't muster a passing offense and Landry threw interceptions on consecutive passes in the middle of the fourth quarter.

SUU cornerback Colin Pretlow got the first interception.

"I was just guarding my man, then he started running up field so I tried to bump him out of bounds and then I looked back to see where the ball was and it was up the in air so I just tried to scoot back, caught it and then I was trying to follow my blockers after that," Pretlow said.

T-Bird cornerback Erron Vonner intercepted Landry's next pass and returned it 12 yards for a touchdown, putting the T-Birds up 35-3 with 8:03 left to play.

"That was all preparation," Lamb said. "Credit Erron Vonner for stepping in front and catching the pass and taking it in, but the biggest part of that was [Pretlow] recognized the formation tendency and called out the route."

Pretlow was assigned to Sioux wide receiver Ismael Bamba most of the day. Bamba entered the game with 31 catches for 577 yards in six games, but didn't catch a pass Saturday.

"It was pretty tough; he's a good receiver," Pretlow said of Bamba. "I was just trying to pretend there was no one else on the field except for me and him."

Cooper said the defense's strong play helped the offense.

"They were awesome," he said. "They make our lives easy if they can do that and that's what we love. It takes stress off our shoulders and we can sit back and relax instead of being uptight and knowing that we have to put it in the end zone."

"That was a team victory, kind of like all three of the games we've played at home now," Lamb said. "We're getting stops on defense, the offense doesn't feel like it has to score on every possession, the team wins."

The T-Birds return to action at 1 p.m. Halloween in front of the home fans against GWC foe UC Davis.

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