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Stephen F. Austin Football

What We Learned: Lumberjacks bested in OT heartbreaker

September 18, 2019

CEDAR CITY, Utah- Despite their highest scoring output of the season, the SFA Lumberjacks faltered in a 45-38 overtime thriller to the Southern Utah Thunderbirds Saturday night inside the tumultuous Eccles Coliseum. 

SFA trailed 17-3 during the second quarter, and it looked as if they were on their way to getting blown out of the coliseum. However, an Eli Jones pick-six and a Cam Arnold rushing touchdown erased all doubt of a potential blowout and opened the door for SFA to seize full control of the game with the score being tied at intermission. 

During the second half both teams traded scores like heavyweight prize fighters traded punches. SFA changed the lead on three separate occasions during the second half and had the lead with 1:12 left in the fourth quarter after Josh McGowen rumbled into the end zone giving SFA a 38-31 advantage. However, Southern Utah answered with a rushing touchdown of their own on their next possession and would go on to win the game in overtime after scoring another rushing touchdown while holding the Lumberjacks to a failed fourth down conversion during their only offensive possession of the overtime period. 

SFA (0-3 overall, 0-0 Southland Conference) have only one non-conference win throughout this decade and have lost three consecutive games against FBS opponent, Baylor, Division II opponent, Tarleton State and FCS opponent, Southern Utah. 

Here's two takeaways from SFA's heartbreaking loss to the Thunderbirds.

1. Never Give Up

The Lumberjacks trailed Southern Utah 10-0 after the first quarter and found themselves down 17-3 during the early stages of the second quarter. 

Trae Self, quarterback, had threw an interception the possession before and the Thunderbirds were threatening to score again, but the SFA defense had other plans. They defensive lineman converged on Chris Helbig and he threw the ball into the path of Lumberjacks defenders. As a result, the pass was tipped by one of the defensive lineman and Eli Jones, cornerback, caught the pass out of the air and sprinted untouched for a 76-yard interception return making the score 17-10. With the Jacks' timely defensive play they avoided a dangerous 14-point swing that could've possibly knocked them out of the game. 

Later in the half, the Lumberjacks scored a rushing touchdown courtesy of Arnold which tied the game at 17. The Jacks used this willful comeback to put themselves in position to take the game over in the second half. SFA scored 21 huge points in the second half and held the lead three different times, however, the Jacks' fell short during overtime and some of the blame could link to fatigue because they fought so hard to make the game manageable after their slow start during the first half. Nonetheless, SFA turned a potential blowout into an overtime thriller and despite the outcome they gave themselves numerous chances to win the game in the fourth quarter because of their resilience they displayed in the first half. 

2. Balanced Offensive Production

The SFA offense carried the team on it's back throughout the game. They compiled 396 total yards in 86 plays. Self threw for 290 yards through the air and the rushing unit compiled 106 yards on the ground. Self was under immense pressure all throughout the game getting sacked four times, throwing an interception and fumbling, but he once again showed why he Colby Carthel, head coach, waited on him for two seasons while he was at Butler Community College. During the first three games of the season Self has shown strength and weaknesses in his arm, and against the Thunderbirds, he displayed both all throughout the game. 

Self overthrew his receivers and made other bad reads, but despite his shortcomings he managed to complete 27 of 44 passing attempts for 290 yards while hurling two touchdowns during the high scoring affair. His two touchdowns were setup by long passes that got SFA deep inside scoring position before they were able to punch the ball over the plain. 

Additionally, the rushing unit ran and caught the ball with poise and consistency giving SFA more diversity in their offensive schemes. Thomas Hutchings, McGowen and Da'Leon Ward were the key contributors to SFA's offensive success throughout the game. All three guys amongst others ran their routes and used their speed and strength to gain positive yards which provided the entire offense with a huge spark they used to help them poke holes in the Thunderbirds defense. 

Overall, SFA put themselves in a position to win this game, but just couldn't get over the hump when the rubber needed to meet the road. As they end their non-conference matchups they leave the field knowing they're capable of competing at a high level, and they hope to make some adjustments on both sides of the ball to prepare them for their grueling conference schedule that's right around the corner. 

The Lumberjacks will host the Nicholls Colonels in their Southland Conference home opener for their next matchup. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 22, at Homer Bryce Stadium. 

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