OGDEN — The third time was less charming.
Weber State had defeated Montana twice in a row in Ogden, but the Grizzlies got away from the Wildcats on Saturday for a 24-21 win at Stewart Stadium.
Montana scored 14 straight points over the final two quarters before Weber State freshman Cordero Dixon returned a kickoff 100 yards to give the Wildcats one final shot with 3:41 remaining.
Dixon’s electric return was a lightning bolt of energy for the Wildcats — “a perfect play,” he said — but the Griz dissipated the charge by picking up a pair of first downs to run out the clock for the win.
Montana (5-5, 3-4 Big Sky) won its second straight in a disappointing season for the perennial FCS power, while Weber State (1-8, 1-5) missed an opportunity to stretch its home winning streak over the Grizzlies to an unprecedented three games and improve its standing in the conference.
Montana, which entered the game with more sacks than any team in the nation, got to WSU quarterback Mike Hoke with its pass rush for four sacks and forced him to fumble three times, the last one the most costly. Zach Wagenmann knocked the ball free from Hoke in the fourth quarter and Josh Harris recovered to set up a 35-yard Chris Lider field goal that proved to be the difference.
“That’s probably the best front seven we’ve played, definitely in conference at least,” Hoke said. “They kind of lived up to the billing.”
The Wildcats fell again despite the fifth 100-yard kick return in school history and a big performance from linebacker Anthony Morales, who had a season-high 23 tackles to tie for the sixth most in a single game in school history. Morales’ total was the highest by a Weber State player since 2001.
“I told the guys in the locker room how proud I was of them because it would have been easy to fold our tent and we kept fighting to the last play,” Morales said. “A loss or not, I’m proud of our guys.”
Running back Peter Nguyen rushed for 103 yards on 19 attempts and caught three passes for 88 yards to lead the Grizzlies and Jordan Canada ran for another 85 yards on 21 carries. Sophomore quarterback Shay Smithwick-Hann completed 17 of 30 passes for 231 yards and a touchdown in his second start for Montana.
Weber State took a 14-10 lead in the third quarter after Antwain Stutson snagged a tipped pass interception in the red zone and Kris Parham scored on a one-yard run at the other end.
WSU interim coach Jody Sears said nobody cares the game was close if you lose, but he was also proud of the team’s effort and impressed with its character, grit and determination.
“We stuck together and just keep hanging in there,” he said. “I wanted to make sure they knew we were proud of them and there’s a lot of stuff to build on — not to fracture, not to ‘woe is me.’ We’re not doing that. When you stick together, and you continue to work and continue to grind, you get stronger and you become more united. That’s what we’re going to do, that’s how this program is going to be.”
Hoke completed 16 of 24 passes for 136 yards without a touchdown or interception as he moved into ninth place in Weber State history for passing yards while running back C.J. Tuckett rushed 13 times for 69 yards and one touchdown.
Montana didn’t start farther away from the end zone than its own 44-yard line on its first four drives, but the Wildcats’ defense overcame two partially blocked punts and a fumble recovered by Montana inside the red zone but didn’t break.
Lider missed two of his first three field goal attempts in the first half and the Wildcats prevented the Griz from capitalizing on their good field position.
“We earned the first three quarters defensively,” Morales said. “We caused the turnover in the red zone, we had a fourth-down stop. When we were in the red zone, we did what we needed to do. That’s how it is. We had a couple of turnovers where we were on our own 30 or 40. We executed what we needed to do for three quarters, couldn’t get it done in the fourth.”
WSU trailed 10-7 at the half and converted Stutson’s first career interception into points to take a 14-10 lead before Montana answered with a Lider 22-yard field goal, a 9-yard touchdown pass from Smithwick-Hann to Bryce Carver with a two-point conversion — then the fumble recovery and the decisive 35-yarder by Lider in a 14-0 charge.
Weber State plays its final home game next Saturday against Northern Colorado (3-6, 2-4 Big Sky) before finishing the season on the road against Idaho State (1-8, 0-6) in Pocatello.
Montana 24, Weber St. 21
At Stewart Stadium
Montana 3 7 3 11 — 24
Weber St. 0 7 7 7 — 21
Montana—Lider 24 field goal, 6:02.
Weber State—Tuckett 1 run (McClain kick), 9:44.
Montana—Canada 4 run (Lider kick), 3:32.
Weber State—Parham 1 run (McClain kick), 8:02.
Montana—Lider 22 field goal, 3:04.
Montana—Carver 9 pass from Smithwick-Hann (S.Gratton pass from Smithwick-Hann), 6:37.
Montana—Lider 35 field goal, 3:53.
Weber State—Dixon 100 kickoff return (McClain kick), 3:41.
Montana Weber St.
First downs 23 13
Rushes-yards 51-205 29-102
Passing 231 136
Comp-Att-Int 17-30-1 16-25-0
Return Yards 0 27
Punts-Avg. 2-36.0 6-39.0
Fumbles-Lost 1-0 4-3
Penalties-Yards 6-40 8-65
Time of Possession 33:44 26:16
Rushing—Montana, Nguyen 19-103, Canada 21-85, Smithwick-Hann 7-10, Kemp 1-9, Counts 2-6, Team 1-(minus 8). Weber St., Tuckett 13-69, Hoke 11-23, Parham 5-10.
Passing—Montana, Smithwick-Hann 17-30-1-231. Weber St., Hoke 16-24-0-136, Sorenson 0-1-0-0.
Receiving—Montana, S.Gratton 4-24, Nguyen 3-88, Hardy 2-35, Counts 2-25, Carver 2-13, Warren 2-13, Pierson 1-28, Canada 1-5. Weber St., X.Johnson 3-31, Papanikolas 3-28, Parham 2-24, Clemente 2-22, Fowler 2-10, Sorenson 2-8, Walker 1-8, Tuckett 1-5.