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Southern Utah's long wait ends Saturday night, when the Thunderbirds play their first-ever Big Sky Conference football game at Portland State.

SUU, which sought membership in the well-respected and firmly entrenched Big Sky for years, formally joined the league in July.

The Thunderbirds opened their season with nonconference losses at Utah State (34-3) and California (50-31), but they bounced back last week and defeated New Mexico Highlands, 45-23.

"I was actually very pleased with the effort our guys put in and the execution across the board," said coach Ed Lamb. "... I think our team is making improvement."

According to Lamb, beating the Vikings won't be easy, despite the fact they have allowed 97 points in back-to-back losses to North Dakota and Washington.

After North Dakota's 45-37 victory, Portland State coach Nigel Burton fired defensive coordinator Eric Jackson.

"They have played good offensive ballclubs," Lamb said. "They are skilled and play hard. We have a lot of respect for them."

Southern Utah's chance of making a successful Big Sky debut probably depends on whether its offense can take advantage of Portland State's porous defense.

Senior quarterback Brad Sorensen has produced decent numbers in the first three games, even though Lamb has him directing a ball-control attack.

"We're asking our offense to try and help our young defense," Lamb explained. "We've asked them to control the clock, and we've run the ball a little more [than usual]."

A preseason All-American, Sorensen ranks 25th in the country in completions per game (21) and 35th in passing yards per game (219).

"I still feel like he's a premier quarterback," Lamb said.

"We really haven't turned him loose and let him chuck the ball around. I couldn't be more proud of Brad adapting to what we've asked him to do." —

Southern Utah at Portland State

P At Jeld-Wen Stadium

Kickoff • 6:05 p.m. MDT

TV • Fox Northwest

Radio • 91.1 FM

Records • Southern Utah 1-2; Portland State 1-2

Series • Portland State, 8-1

Last meeting • Portland State, 48-16 (1994)

About the Thunderbirds • This is the first Big Sky Conference game in school history. ... WR Fatu Moala caught eight passes for 74 yards last week against New Mexico Highlands. ... RB Brian Wilson ran for a career-high 140 yards. ... They have won eight straight games when rushing for at least 100 yards.

About the Vikings • After a 38-20 win over Carroll College, they have lost to North Dakota (45-37) and Washington (52-13). ...In the last two games, they had five punts, field goals or extra-point attempts blocked. ... Freshman QB Kieran McDonagh has completed 47 of 89 passes for 671 yards and six touchdowns.

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