Two commanding victories are in the books for the New Mexico Highlands football team this young season, spurring talk of the Cowboys across the community and — to a lesser degree — the league.
Things will get more interesting on Saturday, as the team visits Southern Utah, an NCAA Division I school based in Cedar City, Utah.
It’s not a trip the Cowboys are accustomed to making, for one thing.
NMHU typically schedules D-II and NAIA foes from Texas and Oklahoma for its non-conference schedule, although the ‘Pokes did play at Northern Arizona, a Southern Utah league rival, a couple years back.
Southern Utah is a member of the Big Sky Conference, whose schools are in the NCAA Division I football championship subdivision.
The Thunderbirds are 0-2, coming off a 50-31 shootout loss at California.
Preseason All-American quarterback Brad Sorensen completed 31 of 45 passes for 292 yards and four touchdowns in the Cal game.
Aside from Sorensen, offensive guards Zach Brackus and Gavin Farr and defensive tackle Cody Larsen were preseason All-America honorees for SUU.
The passing game is Southern Utah’s strength. Sorensen’s favored targets thus far have been Fatu Moala (14 catches, 153 yards, one touchdown) and Henna Brown (nine grabs, 72 yards, one TD).
While their modern incarnations may be relative strangers to one another, the Cowboys and Thunderbirds played 16 times in the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s, primarily as members of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference. The two haven’t met since 1988, a 55-25 win by Southern Utah in Cedar City. Historically, SUU holds a 10-5-1 lead in the series.
Highlands is off to another strong start in its second year under head coach Eric Young. The team rallied to win big, 42-14 at Eastern New Mexico, then ran all over league rival Fort Lewis 50-0 last week in Durango, Colo.