In a season opener that will be etched in memory for its relentless action and unexpected weather delays, the Arizona State Sun Devils narrowly secured a 24-21 victory over the Southern Utah Thunderbirds. This game, teeming with defining moments, resilient performances, and Mother Nature’s interventions, was an electrifying start to the college football season.

The showdown commenced as a defensive battle, with both teams showcasing their defensive prowess. As the second quarter unfolded, the Sun Devils began to find their offensive groove. Quarterback Jaden Rashada orchestrated effective drives, connecting with his receiving corps for 236 yards and two touchdowns.

“We knew it was going to be a tough game from the start,” acknowledged Sun Devils’ head coach Kenny Dillingham in a post-game quote. The intensity was palpable on the field.

Just as the game reached its climax, ominous dark clouds loomed, and the wind picked up, signaling an impending storm. As dust and debris swirled on the field, officials made the responsible choice to temporarily halt the game, prioritizing the safety of everyone involved—players, coaches, and fans alike.

The weather-induced delay tested the patience of all. Players found refuge in the locker rooms, coaches recalibrated their strategies, and fans sought shelter in the stadium. The length of the delay remained uncertain, adding an aura of unpredictability to the already charged atmosphere.

After what felt like an eternity, the storm finally relented, and the field was cleared for the game to resume. This unforeseen interruption added an extra layer of drama to an already gripping contest, challenging both teams to regroup and recalibrate.

When play resumed, it was evident that the weather delay had not dampened the spirits of the players. The Sun Devils and the Thunderbirds returned to the field with renewed vigor. Despite leading 14-7 before the interruption, Arizona State remained composed and continued to execute critical plays on both sides of the ball.

A defining moment occurred post-resumption, with 7:50 remaining in the second quarter. ASU’s Tyler Graham converted a crucial extra point, extending the Sun Devils’ lead to 21-14. The lead was cemented thanks to a spectacular special teams play earlier by Jordan Washington’s block of a Thunderbirds’ punt that Sun Devils teammate George Ramirez scooped up and returned for a stunning 47-yard touchdown.

“Special teams can make a huge difference in a game, and we capitalized on that opportunity,” Coach Dillingham emphasized, recognizing the pivotal role of special teams.

Conversely, Southern Utah faced a daunting challenge. The weather delay had disrupted their momentum, and they struggled to rediscover their rhythm. ASU’s defense, anchored by eight tackles from linebacker Tate Romney, made crucial stops, denying the Thunderbirds’ scoring opportunities.

As the game transitioned to the fourth quarter, the Sun Devils retained a 24-14 lead, strategically managing the clock by running the ball and taking knees. The Thunderbirds exhibited resilience, mounting a valiant comeback effort, but they failed to penetrate the Sun Devils’ resolute defense in the final minutes.

In the end, Arizona State emerged victorious, exemplifying their skill and tenacity in a tightly contested matchup that featured not only riveting football but also the unpredictability of weather. Both teams left everything on the field, undaunted by the elements. The Sun Devils’ special teams brilliance and their ability to capitalize on crucial offensive plays proved pivotal in securing their 24-21 triumph over the Southern Utah Thunderbirds.

“It was a wild game, and I’m proud of our team’s resilience,” Coach Dillingham concluded. “We’ll build on this win as we continue our season.”

While the Sun Devils celebrated their hard-earned victory, Coach DeLane Fitzgerald of Southern Utah voiced his thoughts: “We are playing grown man football, and there are no moral victories… We played nine percent of our schedule tonight—nothing more, nothing less…We have to use tonight as a building block for our team, and we like our team.” He emphasized the team’s heart and commitment, despite falling short.

“Our game plan offensively and defensively was really good tonight and it showed… We are a small mistake here and there from coming out of here with a win, but we don’t lack heart on the team or coaching staff,” Coach Fitzgerald stated, reflecting on the determined effort put forth by the Thunderbirds.

The weather and closeness of the score made for an unforgettable battle of resolute performances and unwavering determination. This game served as an electrifying start to the college football season, leaving fans eager for more gridiron excitement.

Game Photos

All photos c. Kevin C. Cox/CORE360 Sports

2023 S.Utah-Arizona St