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T-birds looking to open with a victory, gain respect

Southern Utah University football coach Wes Meier hopes his team starts 2005 the same way it ended 2004 — with a win over Idaho State.

The T-Birds, who overcame a seven-point third-quarter deficit to beat the Bengals in the season finale last year in Cedar City, open their season tonight at 6:30 p.m. at Idaho State.

"It's always good to be able to beat them and start to gain a little bit more respect," said Meier.

The meeting will be the 14th between the two schools, with Idaho State holding an 8-4-1 record over the T-Birds. Before last year's loss, the Bengals had won three straight over SUU.

"I think we are as prepared as we can be. I'd like to see it perfect, but we're not going to have that," Meier said. "With the new guys and the new things we have on both sides of the ball, I think we're doing good."

Senior quarterback Zac Connors, a transfer from St. Mary's College, will get the start over sophomore Wes Marshall. The two were neck-and-neck during spring and fall drills before Connor won the job very late in fall camp.

"He's been a little more solid on his reads, and he has a little bit more game experience from what he had last year," Meier said. "We decided he's got to be the guy to start."

Marshall will get playing time.

"Right now it's Zac's job to lose; however, Wes will get reps," Meier said. "A lot of that depends on how things go, but we want to get him game experience."

Last year, the T-Birds compiled 563 yards total offense (261 rushing, 302 passing) in the win over Idaho State, and the Bengals totaled 374 yards (302 passing).

Meier is expecting the Bengals to put the ball in the air a lot again tonight.

"That seems to be their tendency," Meier said.

The Bengals had a quarterback battle as well between sophomore Matt Hagler and senior transfer Luke Sniewski.

Hagler, who completed 33-of-65 passes for 377 yards last year, will start for the Bengals.

The T-Birds will be without top rusher Gordon Reid (hamstring), and they will rely on redshirt freshman Jamar Lee and true freshman Kyle Coop to burden the load at running back.

Southern Utah is 23-19 all-time in season openers and 11-11 in road openers. The T-Birds have won seven of their last eight season lid-lifters. The one loss was on the road at Nevada in 2003.

SUU finished 6-5 last year, and 2-3 in the Great West Football conference, but the T-Birds won their last two and four of their last five.

The Bengals, who lost three of their last four last year, finished 3-8 last year and 2-5 in Big Sky play.