Barely better


A game-saving defensive play kept the Jacks’ late lead and season opening win.

The difference between starting the season 1-0 and 0-1 usually isn’t this clear. It was very visible on the game’s final play from scrimmage on Saturday night.

Going for the win on a two point conversion with two seconds left in the game, Southern Utah’s quarterback Brad Sorensen threw a pass to Daryl Brown running a slant in the middle of the field. The throw was on line but a diving effort by SDSU linebacker Dirk Kool preserved the victory for the Jackrabbits, defeating the Thunderbirds, 29-28 in the Cereal Bowl.

A completion would have served as the final blow to the Jackrabbits, who led 29-7 to start the fourth quarter but allowed a touchdown pass and interception return for a touchdown before Brad Sorensen connected with Jared Ursua to put the T-Birds in the two point try position.

“I thought Coach [Ed Lamb] made a great call and he put us in a perfect play but Jackrabbits defense came up with a great defensive play,” Sorensen said.

With 10,113 in attendance taking in the season opener, both teams slowly fired things up until Southern Utah got on the board with a 25 yard touchdown from Sorensen to Brown. SDSU would answer with a 31-yard Kyle Harris field goal and five yard touchdown pass from Thomas O’Brien to Aaron Rollin. The Jacks, however, fell into a similar bug-a-boo from a year ago and missed the ensuing extra point, taking a 9-7 lead into halftime.

The Jacks made the third quarter their quarter, scoring 20 points and seemingly putting the game out of reach on the strength of touchdown passes from O’Brien to Tyrel Kool and Kyle Sheehan and a 27 yard touchdown scamper by Zach Zenner. SDSU’s defense picked up four sacks and two interceptions to that point. With the bravado that the Jacks played with in the third quarter, SDSU looked good to roll into next week’s Illinois matchup with one win notched on the belt.

That didn’t happen.

In typical season-opener fashion, many positions had ups and downs. The Jackrabbits defense was stout for much of the game but allowed 21 points in the fourth quarter. SDSU quarterback Thomas O’Brien threw for three touchdown passes and distributed the ball well amongst seven players but turned the ball over twice. Tyrel Kool had 184 all-purpose yards in the game, but had a costly fumble that prevented SDSU from running out the clock.

“There’s always a number of unique emotions in a game like this. To win the game after some of the mistakes we made says a lot about the fiber of our team,” Jacks coach John Stiegelmeier said.

SDSU has traditionally struggled with their season openers, losing five of their last seven opening games and the importance of the first win has been established amongst the Jackrabbits players.

“That’s so huge,” Dirk Kool said. “We stress 1-0 every week and that’s the most important goal every week and we really did stress winning that first one because it gives you so much momentum for the rest of the season.”

That trip to Champaign to play Illinois now looms large — no Missouri Valley Football Conference team has ever beaten the Illini in five tries. After trips to Minnesota and Nebraska in each of the last two seasons, don’t worry about the Jacks becoming starstruck tourists.

“We’re not going to go around and gawk about the field or the stadium or any part of that,” Stiegelmeier said. “Some of these guys have waited their whole career for these moments and we’re going to come ready to play our best football.”