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FIRST LOOK: Thunderbirds carry momentum into matchup with standstill Bobcats

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BOZEMAN, Montana — All of a sudden, the Montana State Bobcats are searching for answers. And after a stretch of futility, Southern Utah seemed to have all the answers last week.

Montana State ripped off five straight wins to move as high as No. 6 in the national FCS polls. The Bobcats’ longest winning streak since 2012 came to a screeching halt in a 34-21 loss on homecoming to Sacramento State. After a bye week where self-reflection was the primary talking point, MSU laid an offensive egg in a 16-12 loss at North Dakota.

In 2017, Southern Utah won seven games in a row, including beating three ranked FCS squads to finish 9-2 and earn the program’s second Big Sky Conference title in three seasons. Those Thunderbirds went to the playoffs for the third time since 2014 under second-year head coach Demario Warren, losing 30-13 at home to in-state rival Weber State.

Since then, wins have been almost impossible to come by. Last year’s Thunderbirds lost five straight games, beat a Sacramento State team that would end up winless in Big Sky play, and lost five straight more to finish 1-7 in league, 1-10 overall.

This season, Southern Utah won its third non-conference game 45-38 in overtime against Stephen F. Austin after an 0-2 start, then lost five more in a row. At that point, SUU had lost 18 of its last 20 games.

That is, until last week’s unlikely yet impressive explosion against Idaho State. The Thunderbirds jumped out to a 28-7 first-quarter lead thanks to three different short fields, let ISU cut it to 28-20 with less than five minutes to go in the first half, then scored 17 straight to enter the final quarter up 45-20.

In the final frame, Carlton Johnson’s 51-yard interception return for a touchdown put a final bow on a 59-34 victory.

Southern Utah visits Montana State on Saturday afternoon. MSU head coach Jeff Choate has his charges on high alert with a suddenly surging SUU squad coming to Bobcat Stadium.

“Coach Warren has got these guys improving,” Choate said during his Monday press conference. “When you look at them statistically, at Weber State, one of the best teams in the league, they play a really close, competitive ball game (29-14 loss). They played really well against Davis, lose the game (33-25). Then they get Idaho State and they route ‘em.

Southern Utah head coach Demario Warren in 2016/ by Brooks Nuanez

“They are a very confident team coming off that victory, as they should be.”

BOZEMAN, Montana — All of a sudden, the Montana State
Bobcats are searching for answers. And after a stretch of futility, Southern
Utah seemed to have all the answers last week.

Montana State ripped off five straight wins to move as high
as No. 6 in the national FCS polls. The Bobcats’ longest winning streak since
2012 came to a screeching halt in a 34-21 loss on homecoming to Sacramento
State. After a bye week where self-reflection was the primary talking point,
MSU laid an offensive egg in a 16-12 loss at North Dakota.

In 2017, Southern Utah won seven games in a row, including
beating three ranked FCS squads to finish 9-2 and earn the program’s second Big
Sky Conference title in three seasons. Those Thunderbirds went to the playoffs
for the third time since 2014 under second-year head coach Demario Warren,
losing 30-13 at home to in-state rival Weber State.

Since then, wins have been almost impossible to come by. Last year’s Thunderbirds lost five straight games, beat a Sacramento State team that would end up winless in Big Sky play, and lost five straight more to finish 1-7 in league, 1-10 overall.

This season, Southern Utah won its third non-conference game 45-38 in overtime against Stephen F. Austin after an 0-2 start, then lost five more in a row. At that point, SUU had lost 18 of its last 20 games.

That is, until last week’s unlikely yet impressive explosion against Idaho State. The Thunderbirds jumped out to a 28-7 first-quarter lead thanks to three different short fields, let ISU cut it to 28-20 with less than five minutes to go in the first half, then scored 17 straight to enter the final quarter up 45-20.

In the final frame, Carlton Johnson’s 51-yard interception
return for a touchdown put a final bow on a 59-34 victory.

Southern Utah visits Montana State on Saturday afternoon.
MSU head coach Jeff Choate has his charges on high alert with a suddenly
surging SUU squad coming to Bobcat Stadium.

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Photos Courtesy of Southern Utah Athletics; or by Brooks Nuanez. All Rights Reserved.

About Colter Nuanez

Colter Nuanez is the co-founder and senior writer for Skyline Sports. After spending six years in the newspaper industry with stops at the Missoulian, the Ellensburg Daily Record and the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, the former Washington Newspaper Association Sportswriter of the Year and University of Montana Journalism School graduate ('09) has cultivated a deep passion for sports journalism during his 13-year career covering the Big Sky Conference. In August of 2014, Colter and brother Brooks merged their passions of writing and art to found Skyline Sports.

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