CEDAR CITY, Utah – No. 20/24 Northern Arizona entered Eccles Coliseum today with a chance at a share of the Big Sky regular season title. The Lumberjacks fought tooth and nail and even had one last chance with six seconds left in the game, but No. 18/20 Southern Utah (8-3, 7-1 BSC) was victorious. The win gave the Thunderbirds their first Big Sky title in school history.
If Case Cookus' 49-yard hail mary into the end zone with no time remaining in the first half was any sign of how today's game was going to go, then fans definitely had one in store. After allowing Southern Utah to score after 75 yards in six plays in 44 seconds, the Lumberjacks got the ball back with six seconds to go and made it worth their while. Corbin Jountti moved the ball 11 yards up the field and a personal foul penalty by the Thunderbirds was all NAU needed to get extra yardage. With one second on the clock, FCS Offensive and Freshman Player of the Year nominee Cookus slung the ball like it was an ordinary play as it bounced off Emmanuel Butler's hands and into Hunter Burton's for the touchdown.
Ryan Hawkins netted a 28-yard field goal in the first quarter, but it was a 21-point second quarter that put the Lumberjacks up 10 points entering the second half.
With Cookus breaking the season passing touchdowns record and Butler smashing the season receiving yards record, NAU took the field in the second half with a Big Sky championship title in mind and a HintonBurdick Grand Canyon Trophy within reach.
However, the Thunderbirds were determined to not let NAU off so easy, as they put up 21 points in the third quarter to take a 35-31 advantage heading into the final quarter of play.
Hawkins was spectacular once again in the kicking game, as he connected on a career-long 51 yard field goal at the 13:41 mark in the fourth quarter.
NAU had a chance at one final score with 11 seconds to go in the game. The Lumberjacks positioned themselves for an onside kick after Dejzon Walker caught a 20-yard pass from Cookus for a touchdown to put the score at 49-41 in favor of SUU. NAU was able to recover the onside kick and with six seconds left in the game, the Lumberjacks attempted their second hail mary of the game, but this one fell just short of an NAU receiver and into the hands of a Thunderbird.
The Lumberjacks wrapped up conference play 5-3 finishing in a tie for third place.