The University of Northern Colorado football team secured its first road win in two years Saturday at Southern Utah. While it was not a pretty win, at the end of the day a win is a win.
UNC had all players back for the road trip to Cedar City, Utah and every one of those players was needed to win the game.
Trae Riek and Milo Hall had career days with both going above 100 yards for the first time together. Hall stood out big time with three rushing touchdowns.
Another accolade to add to the Bears season is Alex Wesley becomes the second receiver in UNC history to have multiple 1,000-yard seasons. The only other player to do that was Vincent Jackson, who later was a second-round NFL draft pick.
The Bears stormed ahead to a big lead and it looked like a done deal at halftime with a 24-11 lead.
In the second half, UNC let the Thunderbirds put up 28 points and gave them the ball back down only three points.
Coming to the rescue for the Bears was Henry Stelzner with a game-winning interception.
How It Happened
On the first defensive drive the Bears came out hungry and ready to rumble. Isiah Swopes made that clear as he came through with a leveling hit on SUU running back.
UNC traditionally does well in the game if they score early and the Bears did just that in four plays, capped off with a Milo Hall touchdown.
After forcing another three-and-out, Mott once again led a steady march to the endzone where he dropped an absolute dime to Willie Fairman for a 32-yard touchdown.
SUU would finally figure out how to score by using Tyler Skidmore at quarterback, which the Bears did not plan on seeing at quarterback leading to some of his success.
The long 10-play drive was thoroughly and unnecessarily sustained by two Bears penalties.
For UNC, production would start to taper off as the drives became longer and further out of scoring range. In response, Marques Combs was still able to pull out a field goal for the Bears after an up and down 11-play drive.
The Thunderbirds would sit on the ball for nearly eight minutes as a roughing the kicker penalty kept the drive alive for SUU. Getting all the way to the five-yard line SUU would come across their own penalty trouble which led to a failed field goal attempt by Isiah Swopes.
While the Bears celebrated the missed field goal UNC would throw an interception which later led to a successful SUU field goal.
Both teams would punt as halftime neared and production dropped off significantly. UNC received the punt with good field position. There was only time for one play and Keaton Mott hit Theron Verna exactly for a 35-yard touchdown pass to go into halftime on a high note.
Half time: UNC 24, Southern Utah 11
Mott would come out of the half on a hot streak and help the team to another field goal largely on the part of Willie Fairman’s 34-yard catch.
SUU was now in a larger hole and kept digging it deeper with a fumble by star receiver Ty Rutledge, forced by Michael Walker and covered up by freshman Brooks Talkington.
Like a machine, Mott marched the team down the field and was able to produce another touchdown. Milo Hall would take the handoff and sprint 19 yards for the score.
With SUU really hurting, Skidmore finally caught a break by throwing to Landen Measom, who found a hole in the coverage, for a 74-yard catch and sprint touchdown.
UNC would only take two running plays for its next score, but this touchdown would be the last score of the night for UNC in the late part of the third quarter. Trae Riek sprinted for his longest run of the season of 51 yards and Milo Hall finished the job with a 24-yard run for the touchdown.
The Bears game plan to be conservative from then on almost did not pay off as the Thunderbirds tightened up their coverage and UNC stuck to complacent run plays.
Punting all fourth quarter long while SUU scored 21 points put Bears fans on alert as the winning percentage was dropping exponentially.
The Thunderbirds got the ball back with 28 seconds left and a three touchdowns worth of momentum to work with. Dropping back for the pass and throwing away the ball low and away from the receiver paid off for UNC.
Henry Stelzner was in the right spot at the right time to make a diving interception that would win the game. The Bears had their first road win in two years.
Final: UNC 42, Southern Utah 39
The Mirror’s Keys to the Game Checklist
Stop the Run: While three touchdowns on the ground still leaves room for improvement, only 129 yards allowed is not bad.
Sack the Quarterback: The Bears got nearly as many sacks as their season total this weekend which shows much needed improvement.
Cause Turnovers: Two turnovers may not be as many as the NAU game, but they came at key moments which proved pivotal to the win.
Give Mott Time: While it was not flawless, it has been better in the recent games. Mott was only sacked twice and the running backs went over 200 yards.
Focus on Milo: Milo had a career day with 100+ yards and three touchdowns.
Score Early: The Bears scored on their first three drives which gave them considerable breathing room going into the rest of the game.