OGDEN — Just when the ’Cats looked like they were about to cowboy up, they collapsed.
No. 19 McNeese State ran roughshod over Weber State for a 35-21 victory in front of 9,617 fans in WSU’s home opener Saturday at Stewart Stadium.
The Wildcats worried about getting stampeded in the ground game — with reason, as McNeese State scored twice on runs over 75 yards and rounded up 301 total rushing yards — but the Cowboys went Ghostriders in the Sky as well. Quarterback Cody Stroud completed 20 of 27 passes for 256 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions as McNeese State (3-0) racked up 557 total yards.
Javaris Murray rushed for 124 yards and a score and Diontae Spencer ran for 106 yards and a touchdown on just two carries as Weber State struggled in its first test against a Football Championship Subdivision opponent.
“It was kind of the same story from the first two weeks,” WSU interim coach Jody Sears said. “Two or three big plays makes all the difference.”
Down 14-0 early in the second half, Weber State forced a three-and-out and Kela Marciel returned the punt 18 yards to McNeese State’s 33-yard line to set up a short field.
WSU capitalized when quarterback Mike Hoke found Shaydon Kehano for a 10-yard scoring toss on third and goal from the 10.
The Wildcats seemed to be back in business soon after when safety Tony Epperson forced Champlain Babin to fumble and Danny Mullarkey recovered the the McNeese State 26.
Two plays later, the Cowboys were back riding herd on the ’Cats.
Hoke was immediately intercepted by Guy Morgan and the next play, Spencer turned the corner on an end-around and turned on the jets for a 91-yard touchdown, the longest rushing play in McNeese State history.
“The defense did a great job getting us the ball back (inside the) 50, (offensive coordinator Matt) Hammer called a great play, kind of dialed it up for them and the receiver ran a great route, it was just a bad ball behind him and the corner made a great play on it,” Hoke said. “That just kind of took the momentum out of us, because we got a score, the defense got a turnover and (I) just turned it back over to them and had to put our defense back on the field in a tough position.”
Hoke completed 9 of 19 passes for only 69 yards and one touchdown with the interception.
The Wildcats are 0-3 for the first time since 2007 and may have lost Kehano, who suffered a potential fractured fibula late in the game and will be evaluated.
The Cowboys were a long way from their homestead in Lake Charles, La., but with one notch on their belt already for defeating FBS school Middle Tennessee State in their season opener, they came in confident. Other than the brief blip in the third quarter, they controlled the game from the opening kickoff.
McNeese State coach Matt Viator said it was another big cat that burned the ’Cats on the long run that swung a potential 14-point reversal of momentum.
“That was definitely the turning point of the game,” Viator said. “The momentum had switched as they were coming off a touchdown and a turnover, but Guy made a great play and ‘Tiger’ (Spencer) had a great run.”
Stroud found Jereon McGilvery wide open in the back of the end zone early in the fourth quarter, and Murray followed up with a 76-yard run to make it 35-7.
Epperson, Weber State’s combo safety/punter, followed his breakout performance against BYU last week with another record setting day, launching eight punts for 440 yards, a WSU school-best average of 55.0 yards per punt. He also had six tackles.
Willie Okwuonu and Anthony Morales each had nine tackles and Obi Owoh had three tackles for loss to lead Weber State.
Wide receiver Darius Carey turned the tables on the Wildcats by scoring McNeese State’s first touchdown taking a direct snap in the Wildcat formation and scoring on a 3-yard run with four minutes left in the second quarter.
The Cowboys punched in another TD with 16 seconds to go in the half on a 4-yard keeper by Stroud to give McNeese State a 14-0 lead at halftime with a total offense advantage of 246 yards to 68.
Weber State was fortunate not to have stepped in a deeper hole as McNeese State kicker Josh Lewis missed field goal attempts of 50 and 40 yards in the half..
With backup quarterback Jordan Adamczyk under center late in the fourth quarter, Weber State marched downfield against the Cowboys second string, capped by a 2-yard touchdown run by C.J. Tuckett, but it may have been costly as receiver Shaydon Kehano was helped off the field with a right leg injury after a 28-yard catch-and-run to the McNeese State 3.
Kehano, who caught a team-best six passes for 80 yards, may have broken his leg on the play as he was tackled from behind and dragged down.
Weber State’s best offense happened with the game out of reach. Adamczyk, who was 5 of 9 for 75 yards, orchestrated another scoring drive and finished it off with a 3-yard touchdown run with 20 seconds remaining in the game, but it was a matter of closing the barn door after the cows were out.
Weber State is back at Stewart Stadium next Saturday in its homecoming game and Big Sky Conference opener against No. 10 Eastern Washington.
McNeese State 35, Weber State 21
At Stewart Stadium
McNeese St. 0 14 7 14 — 35
Weber St. 0 0 7 14 — 21
McNeese St.—Carey 3 run (Lewis kick), 4:00.
McNeese St.—Stroud 4 run (Lewis kick), :16.
Weber St.—Kehano 10 pass from Hoke (McClain kick), 11:25.
McNeese St.—Spencer 91 run (Lewis kick), 10:07.
McNeese St.—McGilvery 8 pass from Stroud (Lewis kick), 10:56.
McNeese St.—Ja.Murray 76 run (Lewis kick), 6:45.
Weber St.—Tuckett 2 run (McClain kick), 3:50.
Weber St.—Adamczyk 3 run (McClain kick), :20.
First downs 26 16
Rushes-yards 44-301 37-113
Passing 256 144
Comp-Att-Int 20-28-0 14-28-1
Return Yards 34 18
Punts-Avg. 3-39.0 8-55.0
Fumbles-Lost 2-2 1-0
Penalties-Yards 6-47 9-100
Time of Possession 35:25 24:35
Rushing—McNeese St., Ja.Murray 12-122, Spencer 2-106, Babin 14-44, Celestie 1-12, Wiltz 1-9, Bennett 3-9, Carey 3-1, Nutt 1-0, Team 1-0, Stroud 6-(minus 2). Weber St., Tuckett 17-66, Parham 5-23, Adamczyk 2-17, Booker 5-9, Hoke 7-0, Finai 1-(minus 2).
Passing—McNeese St., Stroud 20-27-0-256, Team 0-1-0-0. Weber St., Hoke 9-19-1-69, Adamczyk 5-9-0-75.
Receiving—McNeese St., Celestie 5-97, Spencer 3-28, Briscoe 2-27, Babin 2-20, Ja.Murray 2-(minus 3), K.Thomas 1-29, Carey 1-21, Dixon 1-12, Edmonson 1-11, McGilvery 1-8, S.Thomas 1-6. Weber St., Kehano 6-80, Clemente 2-10, Tuckett 2-7, Walker 1-26, Papanikolas 1-9, Booker 1-7, Nakamura 1-5.