(STATS) - The loss of an outstanding senior class makes it easy to believe Southern Utah won't repeat as Big Sky Conference football champion this year.
New coach Demario Warren will hear none of that. He's too enthused from the Thunderbirds' spring practices, which wrapped up Saturday with the Defense beating the Offense, 53-52, in an intrasquad game which rewarded points for different play results.
Last year, Southern Utah won its first Big Sky title with a 7-1 conference record and finished 8-4 after a first-round loss at Sam Houston State in the FCS playoffs. In addition to the many influential seniors, the Thunderbirds lost eight-year coach Ed Lamb after the season when he became Brigham Young's assistant head coach.
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But Warren, who had been Lamb's defensive coordinator, is now putting his stamp on the Thunderbirds' program.
The game wasn't decided until a special "challenge" scenario that featured three offensive linemen, three defensive lineman and a running back. The defense held on with a stop.
"It went down to the last one on the 1-yard line, so people competed and that was the main thing we wanted to get out of this," Warren said. "Get people in the spotlight and see who is going to compete when it's live."
Warren's defense lost the likes of NFL-bound James Cowser, Miles Killebrew and LeShaun Sims, but the offense has plenty of returning players, with BYU transfer McCoy Hill or last year's backup, Tannon Pedersen, expected to take over for departed quarterback Ammon Olsen. Warren said the offense became more consistent throughout the spring.
Southern Utah opens its 2016 season Sept. 1 at Utah.