Sunday was Jody Sears' birthday, but his party was Saturday.
After Weber State football players enjoyed their long-awaited first victory of the season, a 24-22 nailbiter over in-state rival and new Big Sky Conference foe Southern Utah, they finished a rowdy postgame celebration in the locker room by singing "Happy Birthday" to Sears.
"That was probably all he wanted for his birthday, right there," Wildcat quarterback Mike Hoke said.
Sears, Weber State's interim head coach, said he didn't care about getting an early birthday present.
"I'm just so happy for those kids because they've worked so hard, they've done everything we've asked them. They do it and then you don't have anything to show for it, that can get pretty frustrating, but like (Weber State play-by-play announcer) Carl Arky just asked me, how do you keep them engaged when you're 0-7? It's just the consistency and I think it tells us a lot about our character. From our seniors to our captains to our assistant coaches, every one has stayed united. No one's fractured, no one's pointing fingers -- you should have done that, you should have done this or we can't do that -- there's been none of that. It's been stay the course, stick to the plan and go to work."
Weber State's defense kept Southern Utah out of the end zone until the fourth quarter.
"We were just attacking," linebacker Anthony Morales said. "Everyone was just doing their assignment. Toward the end they started moving the ball, but we stayed calm and we stopped that two-point conversion. I'm glad to get this win for the seniors and honestly, I don't like that (Southern Utah) team.
"It's a new rivalry now. I don't like rivals. They don't like us and we don't like them, simple as that. It was a good game, they're a good team, but this was a game we had to win."
Morales said he relishes close contests.
"I like to put all my chips on the table," he said. "I'll take a close game every day of the week."
Thunderbirds quarterback Brad Sorensen nearly doubled his passing yards and threw for two scores in the fourth quarter but was sacked by senior defensive end Trevor Pletcher on a two-point conversion attempt that could have tied the game in the final minute.
Sorensen had time but nowhere to throw the ball before Pletcher got to him with linebacker Obi Owoh close behind.
"I knew we had them on that two-point play," said Sears, Weber State's defensive coordinator. "Knowing what they were wanting to do on their two-point play, I just felt really good about it. I don't know exactly what they ran but I figured they'd try to run some kind of pick route. I figured they'd think we were going to blitz them and we played coverage, eight across. There's a lot of color out there and a good quarterback, any quarterback, is going be a little flinchy throwing into dropping eight down there on the goal line.
"I knew if Pletcher got a good get-off, he'd make a play for us and he did."
Weber State (1-7, 1-4 Big Sky) has a bye week this week to prepare for an uncharacteristically down Montana (3-5, 1-4) on Nov. 2 at Stewart Stadium.
Weber State punter Tyler McNannay's average of 51.6 yards per game was the fourth-best single-game average in school history, the second time a WSU punter has done that this season.
Before he was lost for the season to injury, punter/safety Tony Epperson led the country in punting, including a 50.6 yards per punt average against BYU that was the previous fourth-best single-game average.
Weber State's basketball teams play their annual Purple and White preseason scrimmage Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Dee Events Center, and a famous recent alum is expected to be in attendance.
Damian Lillard, who left school after his junior year to become the sixth pick in the NBA draft last summer, announced on Twitter last week that he was definitely going to the Purple and White game.
The Portland Trail Blazers' starting point guard will play an NBA preseason game against the Utah Jazz the following night, Thursday, at 7 p.m. at EnergySolutions Arena.
Weber State's Wildcat Club luncheon will be held today at noon at the Ogden Marriott Hotel on 24th Street. The luncheons are open to the public; cost is $10 per person. For more information, call the Wildcat Club at 801-626-6576 or visit weberstatesports.com.
Roy Burton covers Weber State sports for the Standard-Examiner. Follow @RoyBurton on Twitter, read more about the Wildcats at blogs.standard.net/wsu-sports-blog or reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.