Sports comment: Utah Tech and Southern Utah’s replay of ‘Battle of the Ax’ a renewal for some, a letdown for others

FEATURE — When the dust settled after Southern Utah University’s 31-17 homecoming football victory over Utah Tech University last Saturday night, first-year T-Birds coach DeLane Fitzgerald needed to do the Dew.

“Where’s my cold Mountain Dew?” Fitzgerald said, looking around as he sat down to the table at the postgame press conference in Eccles Coliseum.

One of the SUU student staffers assured him that there were cans of the green goodness chilling in an ice bucket, and retrieved one for him.

“Mountain Dew owes us a big sponsorship,” Fitzgerald said, slugging half the can on his first pull.

Fitzgerald didn’t need any caffeine burst for energy. He was fired up enough about his defense forcing three turnovers in the fourth quarter and dominating the visiting Trailblazers on the scoreboard.

It was announced in the press box that Eccles Coliseum has a capacity of 5,000, but Saturday night over 8,000 fans were in attendance, including a full section of fans from St. George.

The vast majority of the fans went home happy as the T-Birds hoisted the Victory Ax and celebrated their first Western Athletic Conference win.

Wide receiver Isaiah Wooden caught five passes for 129 yards and a touchdown for the T-Birds, while defensive back Rodrick Ward had two interceptions in the SUU victory.

Both Wooden and Ward sat down with Fitzgerald in the press conference.

A rivalry without rivals

The first question I asked Fitzgerald in the press conference was, “Coach, a lot of people talked about a renewal of the rivalry between these two schools. Did you feel like there was a rivalry out there?”

First-year Southern Utah University head football coach DeLane Fitzgerald displays his pleasure upon winning the Victory Ax, Cedar City, Utah, Sept. 24, 2022 | Photo by E. George Goold, St. George News

“No sir. No sir,” Fitzgerald answered. “When schools have played three times since 1963 and haven’t played in the last 12 years, that’s not a rivalry.”

He went on to compare the rivalry between two high schools in Cedar City and St. George.

“That’s more of a rivalry with Dixie than what happened tonight is,” Fitzgerald said.

Wooden has the unique perspective of having played at Dixie State University (what it was called before it officially became Utah Tech in July of this year) as a freshman, then transferring to Kent State, then moving to Cedar City this year to play for the T-Birds as a fifth-year player.

“As far as for me, it felt like a rivalry,” Wooden said. “I mean, there’s a lot of people on that team I know. They have a good coaching staff as well. So I just wanted to show them that I could play. Don’t forget about me, that’s basically it.”

And don’t get Fitzgerald started about the so-called Victory Ax trophy, which goes to the winner of the game.

See the video above for his thoughts about that.

Fitzgerald might be disappointed to learn that since the next game between these two at Greater Zion Stadium on Nov. 5 will not officially be a Western Athletic Conference game, the Victory Ax will reside in Cedar City for at least the next year.

Spread a little thin

My second question to Fitzgerald was, “Utah Tech’s offense is called the Spread-n-Shred. I just wonder what you think about that?”

“It’s Mouse Davis’s Run-n-Shoot,” Fitzgerald responded, referring to influential former football coach Darrell “Mouse” Davis.

Despite never leading a Division I or NFL team, Davis popularized an offense that utilizes formations with empty backfields and four or five, in Utah Tech’s case, wide receivers.

Southern Utah defenders smother Utah Tech quarterback Koby Tracy in a WAC conference football game, Cedar City, Utah, Sept. 24, 2022 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

“And hey, when you only score 17 points, it’s called the Chuck-n-Duck,” Fitzgerald said. “Don’t get me wrong, when you’ve got superior players it’s a good offense. We like playing against it.”

Rodrick Ward intercepted Utah Tech quarterback Kobe Tracy twice in the fourth quarter to secure the T-Birds win.

“I kind of knew the quarterback didn’t have a lot of time, we were sending a lot of heat at him,” Ward said.

I haven’t yet had a chance to interview Trailblazers quarterback Koby Tracy. He plays his guts out and I admire him. My question to him would be, what’s it like to run for your life on every single pass play?

Between Tracy and Washington State transfer Victor Gabalis, Utah Tech quarterbacks have thrown nine interceptions in four games.

And in those four games, three of them losses, the Trailblazers offensive line has yielded 13 sacks, six of them on Saturday night against the Thunderbirds. 

Utah Tech has two outstanding complementary weapons in running back Quali Conley and receiver Joey Hobert. And Tracy makes good decisions when he has time to get them touches.

But whatever you want to call the Utah Tech offense, it’s going nowhere if the guys in the trenches up front don’t start winning some battles.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2022, all rights reserved.

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