Saturday , October 28, 2017 - 7:35 PM
OGDEN — Weber State led by as many as 28 before Montana cut that lead in half Saturday afternoon, but the No. 22 Wildcats fended off the No. 24 Grizzlies to claim a 41-27 win at Stewart Stadium to keep their Big Sky title hopes alive.
The Wildcat defense was responsible for four of a total five forced turnovers, including a fumble and three interceptions.
“Unbelievable first half. I thought we played very well in all phases of the game,” WSU head coach Jay Hill said. “I don’t know if we got into conservative mode in the second half, but bottom line, you’ve got to win the game, and we did. It’s a great team win.”
Senior safety Jordan Preator had two of those picks, returning one 23 yards for a crucial touchdown in the second half that put the Wildcats (6-2, 4-1 Big Sky) up 41-20 after Montana (5-3, 3-2) started clawing back into the game.
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Quarterback Stefan Cantwell finished 17 of 31 for 197 yards and two touchdowns. Senior receiver Drew Batchelor was on the end of seven of those receptions for 53 yards and a touchdown.
Treshawn Garrett recorded 63 of the team’s 93 yards of rushing offense, along with Weber State’s lone rushing touchdown.
The Wildcats started strong on both sides of the ball. They forced two three-and-outs to start the game and scored on every drive in the first half.
Trailing 10-0 after a Trey Tuttle field goal and a Cantwell to Tui Satuala touchdown pass, Montana got moving on its third drive and appeared poised to score — but Xequille Harry picked off a pass in the end zone and returned it 64 yards to set up another Wildcat scoring drive.
That drive ended when Cantwell threw a 6-yard touchdown to Batchelor for a 17-0 lead early in the second quarter.
Special teams also got in on the action, recovering a fumbled kickoff return at the Montana 8. The next play, Andrew Vollert completed a reverse pass to Cantwell for a touchdown. That made it 24-0.
“When I get that call, I get in the huddle, I say the play and everyone just has a grin on their face,” Cantwell said. “I was happy that it was called because it was called in the right situation at the right time, and it helped us.”
Preator recorded his first interception late in the second quarter to stop Montana’s two-minute offense that was threatening to score.
The Wildcats led 34-6 at halftime after an 83-yard TD drive and another Tuttle field goal, a career long 48-yarder — but the Griz proved resilient.
Montana’s defense held Weber State to 32 yards in the third quarter, while the Griz lived up to their offensive reputation with seven first downs and a touchdown.
The Griz were knocking on the door to score again with a second-and-goal at the WSU 4, but a bad hand-off resulted in a fumble recovered by Weber State to kill the drive.
Montana stopped WSU’s ensuing drive and responded with an 81-yard touchdown pass from freshman Gresch Jensen to Samori Toure to shrink the gap to 34-20 with 12:12 left in the game.
“People can say that I got a little conservative on defense or something, but I knew one thing -— they were running out of time,” Hill said. “We had to make sure that we didn’t do anything stupid to lose that game. We pulled off a huge win. That’s a good football team, and they’ve proven it.”
After WSU punter Jacob DeMaio pinned the Griz at their own 4, Preator picked off Jensen again and muscled his way to the end zone to make the score 41-20.
Preator doubled his interception total after picking off two passes against Montana-Western in the season opener.
“Coach Hill called the perfect call,” Preator said. “I had to find a way to get in. It felt really good to score ... The coaches stress it all the time, get turnovers. It swings the momentum of the game. It gets momentum back on our side. It was big play and it brought light back to the defense.”
Jensen tacked on a 38-yard score to Jerry Louie-McGee with 6:25 left, but that would be as close as Montana would get.
“They put pressure on you, there’s no doubt,” Hill added. “They keep coming after you. When you’ve got nothing to lose, then that’s easy. They just keep coming at you, being aggressive. You got to win the game, and we did.”
The Wildcats face another tough task next week, this time on the road against No. 12 Eastern Washington (5-3, 4-1) at 2 p.m. in Cheney, Washington.
Contact Brandon Garside at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @BrandonGarside and on Facebook.com/BrandonGarsideSE.
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