LAS VEGAS, Nev., Sept. 24 - Southern Utah took advantage of a plethora of UNLV miscues Saturday night, including returning a school-record three interceptions for touchdowns as the Thunderbirds stunned the Rebels, 41-16.
UNLV got the first big break of the game when Tani Make intercepted a Brad Sorensen pass at the SUU 25 yard line. The Rebels weren't able to move the ball, however, and appeared to be settling for a 31-yard Nolan Kohost field goal attempt, but holder DB Mike Clausen, a former high school quarterback, took the snap and found Austin Harrington open for a 23-yard touchdown pass.
UNLV missed an opportunity to add to its lead after an offensive pass interference call in end zone pushed the ball back from the one-yard line to the 16. Two plays later Cody Larsen sacked Caleb Herring, stripped him of the ball, then recovered the fumble to thwart the scoring threat.
After SUU pulled within 7-3 on a 35-yard Colton Cook field goal, defensive tackle Nick Witzmann - who sat out last week's UTSA game with a sprained ankle - intercepted a Herring pass over the middle and returned it 35 yards to give SUU a 10-7 lead with 11:11 to go in the first half.
UNLV was able to tie the game with 10 seconds to go in the half, however, by putting together a 6-play, 48-yard drive to set up a 45-yard Nolan Kohorst field goal.
The Thunderbirds jumped right back into the lead and essentially took control of the game on the first play from scrimmage in the second half, however, when Black Fenn intercepted a Herring pass and returned it 22 yards for a touchdown.
The play turned the tide for the Thunderbirds, SUU head coach Ed Lamb conceded.
"I think it did, obviously we never looked back from there so I think we have to credit that [play]," he said. "The whole defense worked so well together. The secondary took away their first options and the defensive line really got some pressure on them, and from there ... it kind of became the pattern of the game."
SUU went up 24-10 after putting together its longest drive to that point in the game, a 7-play, 83-yarder, that was capped by a 6-yard Minefee run for a touchdown.
The Thunderbirds ate another 5:06 of clock when they got the ball back, tacking on three points on a career-long 40-yard Cook field goal at the 14:14 mark of the fourth period, then got another big break when Tyler Osborne recovered a UNLV fumble at the Rebel 24 yard line. The Thunderbirds converted that turnover into another score, a 2-yard Minefee run, to take a 34-10 lead.
Erron Vonner put the icing on the cake for the Thunderbirds with a74-yard interception return for a touchdown on UNLV's ensuing drive, pushing the Thunderbird lead to 41-10. UNLV added a late touchdown to accojnt for the final score.
UNLV wound up winning the total yardage war, 402-to-256, but the Thunderbirds were good enough to win, especially on defense.
Southern Utah improved to 3-1 on the season while UNLV dipped to 1-3.
-- SUU --