OGDEN -- Weber State didn't take advantage of its opportunities early, then didn't do enough late to stop in-state rival Southern Utah from walking out of Stewart Stadium with a 27-21 victory on Saturday.
The Wildcats outgained the Thunderbirds by nearly 100 yards, but gave back 124 yards on 11 momentum-killing penalties while losing their ninth consecutive game.
"I love their heart, love their passion is, love where their energy is, I absolutely love it, but we've got to be smart and we've got to be selfless, have that much more self-control," Weber State coach Jody Sears said. "They want to win so bad, and it's right there, they want to reach out and grab it, but they've got to be smart."
SUU scored 24 unanswered points before WSU's sense of urgency finally arrived with a six-play, 75-yard drive that took just 1:11 off the clock and cut the lead to 24-14 with 5:16 remaining.
The Wildcats' onside try was unsuccessful and when they got the ball back, they were forced to gamble on fourth and 14 inside their own 10 yard line with under three minutes to go. A sack gave the T-birds the ball at the WSU 4-yard line, but a holding penalty pushed SUU back and they settled for a 36-yard field goal by Colton Cook.
Once again, Weber State marched the ball with urgency, going 65 yards on 10 plays in under a minute and a half to score with 2.7 seconds to go left in the game that made the final score a respectable margin.
The Wildcats were left to wonder what might have happened if they had capitalized on their opportunities in the first half -- and hadn't given away so much with inopportune penalties.
"Just finishing, that's been our deal," senior linebacker Anthony Morales said. "Sometimes we start hot, last week we actually started decently and then we kind of faded out towards the end of the game. It's just going to take a will to win and playing four full quarters."
The Wildcats' offense finally reappeared in the fourth quarter as SUU tried to run out the clock.
"I'm extremely happy with the way they finished," Sears said. "Obviously, Southern probably backed off a little bit, coverage-wise. We took advantage of it. It was good to see. It's something we talk about every day, finishing and finishing strong."
They did that, but the finish line had already been moved back too far for the 'Cats to come out ahead.
The game started out as an interesting matchup between two true freshman quarterbacks, SUU's Mike Sharp and WSU's Austin Chipoletti, but T-birds junior transfer Aaron Cantu figured in the mix as well.
Sharp rushed for a team-high 81 yards and a score but was ineffective throwing the ball, while Cantu threw for 117 yards and a touchdown in relief.
Chipoletti threw three touchdown passes and completed 29 of 46 passes for 263 yards and an interception. His first TD toss of the day was a 31-yarder to fellow freshman Cameron Livingston to give WSU a 7-0 lead, but the next, a beautiful 22-yard strike with Gamal Fowler staying inbounds along the side of the end zone, didn't come until the fourth quarter. Livingston added a second touchdown catch, a 7-yarder, with just seconds left in the game.
In between, the Weber State offense sputtered while SUU's found its stride.
Cantu entered the game when Sharp was injured briefly in the third quarter and led a 13-play, 81-yard drive capped by a 23-yard Colton Cook field goal.
The 'Cats defense dominated early, but the offense couldn't convert.
SUU's first six drives resulted in four punts, an interception and a missed field goal, but WSU couldn't get enough separation to prevent the T-birds from tying it at halftime.
A 45-yard return by A.J. Coney on the opening kick set WSU up nicely, but the drive stalled out and Shaun McClain's 50-yard field goal try was blocked.
Weber State took a 7-0 lead on a 31-yard strike from Chipoletti to Cameron Livingston later in the first quarter.
However, when when Boise State transfer Deon'tae Florence made a circus catch on the sideline to intercept Sharp. Florence's team-leading fourth interception of the year. That gave WSU the ball near the red zone, but a personal foul penalty on Morales after the play pushed the Wildcats back out of easy striking distance and McClain misfired from 53 yards.
The 'Cats caught a break when SUU star kicker Colton Cook missed a 42-yard field goal attempt, but their luck didn't hold as the T-birds converted a fourth-and-one near the goal line and Levi Teo punched in a one-yard touchdown to tie it at 7-all going into the break.
"We had some bad penalties, personal fouls, including myself, that killed us throughout the game. We let them score right before half and kind of gave them the momentum going into halftime. We didn't do a good job of stopping it," Morales said.
WSU had 350 yards of total offense to 259 for SUU, though only 87 of those yards came on the ground. Livingston caught five passes of 87 and Erik Walker had seven catches for 65 yards.
Weber State will travel to Missoula next Saturday to meet Montana.
Contact sports writer Roy Burton at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @RoyBurtonSE.
Southern Utah 27,
Weber State 21
At Stewart Stadium
Southern Utah 0 7 10 10--27
Weber State 7 0 0 14--21
Weber State--Livingston 31 pass from Chipoletti (McClain kick), 5:39.
Southern Utah--Te'o 1 run (Cook kick), :22.
Southern Utah--Sharp 1 run (Cook kick), 9:22.
Southern Utah--Cook 23 field goal, 2:00.
Southern Utah--McNabb 12 pass from Cantu (Cook kick), 6:27.
Weber State--Fowler 22 pass from Chipoletti (McClain kick), 5:16.
Southern Utah--Cook 36 field goal, 1:32.
Weber State--Livingston 7 pass from Chipoletti (McClain kick), :02.
First downs 17 15
Rushes-yards 38-104 27-87
Passing 155 263
Comp-Att-Int 11-27-1 29-47-1
Return Yards 20 0
Punts-Avg. 8-39.3 7-45.7
Fumbles-Lost 2-0 1-1
Penalties-Yards 8-59 11-124
Time of Possession 30:37 29:23
Rushing--S. Utah, Sharp 12-81, T.Afatasi 4-15, Te'o 10-12, Martin 6-6, Team 1-0, Cantu 5-(minus 10). Weber State, Chipoletti 11-43, Zac.Smith 8-25, Bolen 5-16, Walker 1-4, Team 1-0, Booker 1-(minus 1).
Passing--S. Utah, Cantu 8-17-0-117, Sharp 3-10-1-38. Weber State, Chipoletti 29-46-1-263, Team 0-1-0-0.
Receiving--S. Utah, McNabb 5-65, E.Pedersen 3-61, Moala 2-18, Te'o 1-11. Weber State, Walker 7-65, Livingston 5-87, Kehano 5-24, Fowler 3-36, Bolen 3-10, Booker 2-32, Hall 2-(minus 1), Chipoletti 1-9, Zac.Smith 1-1.