by Spencer Rodak
The No. 14/18 SUU football team won its second Big Sky Conference title in three years on Saturday night, defeating rival No. 23 Northern Arizona in front of a record-breaking crowd, 48-20.
With the win, the Thunderbirds also clinched an automatic berth to the FCS Playoffs.
The win also gave SUU the Hinton Burdick Grand Canyon Trophy for the fourth straight time, and the ninth win of the season set a new Division I record for the Thunderbirds. It was also the fourth time this season that SUU knocked off a ranked opponent.
The Thunderbirds (9-2, 7-1 BSC) got on the board first when Manny Berz knocked in a 21-yard field goal to give SUU a 3-0 lead.
NAU (7-4, 6-2 BSC) kicked two field goals in the opening quarter, giving them a 6-3 lead heading into the second period.
After a low scoring period, SUU exploded in the second quarter.
Berz tied up the game with a 41-yard field goal, making the score 6-6.
After the Lumberjacks fumbled the ensuing kick return, the Thunderbirds drove down the field, capped off by a 1-yard touchdown run by Patrick Tyler for a 13-6 lead.
On the next play, NAU had yet another costly mistake, fumbling a second kickoff that SUU recovered. The Thunderbirds drove down the field and Tyler found the end zone on a 23-yard run, giving SUU a 20-6 lead.
The Thunderbirds continued to showcase their offense in the quarter when with just over five minutes to go, Jay Green Jr. broke through for a 3-yard touchdown and a 27-6 lead.
NAU was able to close out the half strong, scoring with just under a minute to go, cutting the deficit to 27-13 heading into half time.
SUU added to the lead with 6:34 to go in the third when Green Jr. ran into the end zone from one yard out for a score, his second of the game that gave the Thunderbirds a 33-13 lead after the blocked extra point attempt.
SUU scored yet again with just over a minute left in the third, when Isaiah Diego-Williams scored on a 4-yard run. The two-point conversion that followed was successful, putting the Thunderbirds up 41-13.
SUU sealed the game when Green Jr. broke off a 10-yard touchdown run with ten minutes to go in the game, giving the Thunderbirds a 48-13 lead.
The Lumberjacks added a touchdown with just under seven minutes to go, making the score 48-20, but it was too little too late for NAU, as the Thunderbirds and their fans were just counting down the minutes until they could celebrate the blowout win with the championship trophy.
SUU will now look forward to the FCS playoffs. The Thunderbirds were given a No. 8 seed in the bracket, and will receive a first-round bye.
SUU will host the winner of the Western Illinois-Weber State contest, on December 2 in the second round of the playoffs. This will be the first time the Thunderbirds have played at home during the postseason. Kickoff is slated for 6 p.m.