Portland State possesses football, makes plays to defeat flat Weber State 30-18
OGDEN — With its playoff hopes on the line and trailing 24-18, Weber State had stuffed Portland State quarterback Davis Alexander on a second-down option run and called timeout with 2:40 left in the game Saturday at Stewart Stadium.
Alexander, limping to the sideline and back during the timeout to get the play call, had caused all kinds of problems with his legs — as he does — to keep drives alive and convert third downs.
But on this third-and-10 from its own 46, Alexander barely moved. He stood tall and threw a strike to a well-covered Nate Bennett at the sticks, who kept moving for a 15-yard gain and a first down, making the visiting Vikings 8 of 15 on third downs for the game.
Weber State had excelled in third-down defense this season, best in the Big Sky, until Saturday.
With only one timeout left, that pretty much ended the game for Weber State. PSU running back Malik Walker made sure of it on the next play, cutting up the middle against an aggressive defense trying desperately to get a stop and dashing 39 yards for a touchdown.
Portland State 30, Weber State 18.
Two weeks after a season-saving upset at No. 2 Eastern Washington, in which the offense came alive and ran the ball in big moments to seal it, the Wildcats were done in by a nearly inept run game, inconsistent passing, and a defense that pressured Alexander all over the field but couldn’t get quite enough stops.
“Portland State played very good today. You’ve got to give them a ton of credit. Coach (Bruce) Barnum had their guys ready to go. I said it all week, I thought the Alexander kid is tough,” WSU head coach Jay Hill said. “He was poised, knew when to throw it and get it out of his hand quick, he knew when to scramble and buy time and make a play.”
After five consecutive postseasons, Alexander and company spelled the end of Weber State’s playoff hopes and also handed the Wildcats an uncanny fifth consecutive home loss.
“It was our fault. It had nothing to do with the offense. We couldn’t get out of third downs,” senior safety Preston Smith said. “Our defense is built not to let teams dink and dunk, and they just dink and dunked all the way down the field, 90 yards, a couple times, and they cannot do that.”
Portland State (5-4, 4-2 Big Sky) out-possessed Weber State (4-5, 3-3) throughout — at one point nearing a plus-30 margin in offensive plays from scrimmage — but ultimately WSU’s 256 yards on 58 plays just wasn’t good enough to compete once the Vikings began making plays offensively.
Two key first-half passes didn’t connect for second-season freshman quarterback Bronson Barron that ultimately meant a lot in the end.
The first came in on Weber’s second possession of the game. On a third-and-3 from the Weber 47, the Wildcats lined up in I-formation and ran a play-action with senior playmaker Rashid Shaheed streaking open up the left sideline. But the ball was underthrown, causing Shaheed to wait on the ball.
He ultimately won the jump ball and came down hard to the turf at the PSU 12. The catch was then incorrectly overturned on replay review and the scoring chance was doubly missed thanks to the throw and the call.
The second such throw came with Weber leading 7-3 in the second quarter after Barron hit Shaheed on a long post to pick up 34 yards on third-and-18. On the next play from the PSU 32, Shaheed ran open to the left corner of the end zone but Barron put too much air under the ball. By the time it reached Shaheed, Vikings defensive back Xavier Bell had recovered, met Shaheed and the ball, and broke up the pass.
Three plays later, Weber turned the ball over on downs.
“Tonight, we missed two early shots to (Shaheed), both touchdowns if we just throw it out there and they’re both touchdowns, wide open, and we missed them,” Hill said. “Those are critical times where we had a chance to go up 21-3 and we missed two shots, and it was a completely different feel from what the game should have been. We’ve got to start landing those shots.”
Robert Casey, Weber State Athletics Weber State linebacker Conner Mortensen (11) tries to wrap up Portland State quarterback Davis Alexander (6) during a Big Sky Conference football game Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021, at Stewart Stadium in Ogden.
Weber State led 7-0 thanks to freshman quarterback Creyton Cooper ripping a 51-yard run to paydirt after keeping a read-option play with 4:03 left in the first quarter.
For the second straight week, Cooper led the Wildcats in rushing (seven carries, 76 yards, two touchdowns) from his read-option and power/counter packages. Run plays to backs struggled and, oddly, Weber State ran just eight handoffs to running backs during the game.
Kris Jackson, Dontae McMillan, Damon Bankston and Dave Jones each took two carries in the game, netting a combined total of 4 yards.
“We’ve got to do a better job of getting the running backs the ball. We faced two fronts the last two weeks that — they don’t make it hard to run the ball, but we’ve got to do a better job of running against those fronts,” Hill said. “We should give the running backs the ball more, and we need more productivity out of them when we do give it to them.”
With Weber leading 7-0, Alexander completed a jump pass against pressure on fourth-and-1 from the Weber 39, eventually resulting in a 49-yard field goal from Gianni Smith in the second quarter.
That was the first of three consecutive scoring drives for the Vikings. After the second big missed shot to Shaheed, Portland State got a fantastic diving catch at the sideline from Darien Chase to the Weber 27 and Alexander connected with Beau Kelly for 16 yards on third-and-15 from the 32.
Walker punched in a touchdown from 2 yards out the Vikings led 10-7 at halftime.
Portland State got the ball to start the second half and marched 71 yards in 13 plays, taking 5:24 off the clock. Alexander and Kelly again converted a key third down deep in WSU’s end, this time a third-and-9 from the Weber 13 that went for 9 yards, and Alexander ran it in from 4 yards out for a 17-7 lead.
In Weber’s next five plays, ending in Barron taking his fourth sack of the game, the Wildcats netted 2 yards and punted. Weber State totaled 16 net yards of offense in the third quarter, and Barron threw 2 of 5 for 0 yards in the frame.
“It’s a team deal,” Hill said of the passing-game struggles. “(Barron has) got to get the ball out at times better, we’ve got to put him in better positions where he doesn’t have to hold it, and the protection’s got to be better.”
A 16-yard completion to Shaheed and a second 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty against PSU linebacker Justice Pagan, resulting in his ejection, helped set up a Kyle Thompson 45-yard field goal to make it 17-10 with 2:35 left in the third.
But the Vikings answered. Jalynnee McGee ripped runs of 9 and 22 yards to the Weber 11 and PSU finished a 72-yard drive when Alexander hit Chase with a back-shoulder jump ball in the end zone, which Chase won to put his team up 24-10 with 11:57 left in the game.
Weber’s offense suddenly came to life to stay in it. Barron hit Bankston on an arrow out of the backfield for a 34-yard gain, then Shaheed hauled in consecutive passes for a combined 32 yards.
The drive then dangled by a thread twice: Barron threw to Shaheed on fourth-and-6 from the PSU 16 and Shaheed found the line to gain for 7 yards. On third-and-goal from the 7, Barron targeted UNLV transfer Randal Grimes for the only time of the game, throwing incomplete across the back of the end zone but drawing a questionable pass interference call.
Cooper took the next snap 2 yards angling left for a touchdown, Mackenzie Morgan easily ran in a fake PAT attempt from the holder spot, and it was 24-18.
Weber State got what it needed from its defense, forcing Portland State to punt the ball away with 4:56 left. With two timeouts left, it seemed WSU had a chance to grasp a win from the jaws of defeat but its possession started at its own 10-yard line because of an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against WSU safety Naseme Colvin after the punt.
Weber went three-and-out, had to punt from its own 10, and the Vikings picked up the clutch third-down conversion and final Walker touchdown to seal it.
Alexander threw 29 of 42 for 299 yards, and Walker rushed 15 times for 90 yards to lead PSU. Bennett caught nine balls for 83 yards.
For Weber State, Barron threw 20 of 33 for 187 yards, with seven completions going to Shaheed for 90 yards. Bankston’s big catch-and-run late gave him four receptions for 53 yards.
Weber State finishes the season with a road contest at Southern Utah on Nov. 13, then sends off its seniors in the season finale Nov. 20 at home against Northern Colorado.