OGDEN — Call it déjà EWU.
Trailing by six to Eastern Washington, Weber State drove down the field with a chance to win in the final minute before an Eagles defender reached in to knock the ball away from Wildcats quarterback Mike Hoke to seal the victory.
What happened a year ago in Cheney, Wash., repeated itself in Ogden as No. 9 Eastern Washington escaped with a 32-26 victory over Weber State on Saturday night at Stewart Stadium.
“It’s déjà vu,” Weber State linebacker Anthony Morales said. “We’ve done a really good job of flushing the past three games out of our mind and focusing now on conference. It’s hard, but we have to move forward from here. If we win seven straight games, we will be in the playoffs in the conference that we’re in.”
Weber State’s first-half curse continues, but the winless Wildcats (0-4) came closer to ending their losing streak in their Big Sky opener than at any point this season with a second-half rally.
WSU, doomed by slow starts in every game, has been outscored 79-6 in first halves, has not scored at all in a first quarter this season and has not scored a touchdown in a first half.
Saturday, the Wildcats saw Eastern Washington (2-1) take a 20-3 lead at halftime, sparked by freshman quarterback Vernon Adams.
Adams, getting an unexpected start over SMU transfer quarterback Kyle Padron, threw for 75 yards and rushed for 62 more in the first half. With Adams on the bench with cramps, Padron played most of the second half, throwing for 149 yards and one touchdown to Brandon Kaufman, who caught six passes for 126 yards.
As soon as the first half was over, the Wildcats came to life, capitalizing on a Kela Marciel interception to score on a 28-yard pass from Hoke to Lanny Papanikolas on their first possession of the third quarter.
Jarret Gooden’s two-point conversion made it 20-11, and after Padron threw a 23-yard TD pass to Kaufman, Weber State responded with its longest offensive play of the season.
Xavian Johnson took a screen pass and turned on the jets, scooting 71 yards down the sideline to set up C.J. Tuckett’s 1-yard scoring dive. Marciel eompleted a two-point conversion pass to Trevor Pletcher and Weber State trailed 29-19 as the third quarter expired.
Eastern Washington added a field goal after opening the fourth quarter with a long drive, but WSU responded one more time with an 18-yard scoring pass from Hoke to Erik Walker to close the gap to 32-26.
That’s where it stayed — in surprising symmetry to WSU’s 27-21 loss to Eastern Washington last season in the game that Hoke suffered a separated shoulder.
Johnson had a career-high 133 receiving yards but was crushed by the unfinished final drive.
“It hurts,” Johnson said. “We do it in practice every single day and it works.
“Everybody knew we were going to do it, everybody knew we were going to win. We do it in practice every day. We had it in us, but we made mistakes. We’ve got to be consistent, just like practice.”
Hoke completed 17 of 34 passes for 249 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, but after converting a third-and-5 and a fourth-and-2 to bring the ’Cats into Eastern Washington territory, Hoke had the ball swatted away by defensive lineman Jerry Ceja as he looked for a deep receiver. Will Katoa fell on the ball and the Eagles ran out the final 34 seconds to hand the Wildcats a Homecoming loss in front of 9,434 fans.
“The kid made a play, you tip your hat and you move forward,” Weber State interim head coach Jody Sears said. “(Hoke) has got his eyes downfield. We tell the quarterbacks to keep your eyes downfield. Do you look at the rush? No. He’s moving around in the pocket, finding those windows … and the kid made a whale of a play.”