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3 interception touchdowns spark Weber State to 48-17 rout of Northern Colorado

By Brett Hein - | Nov 20, 2021
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Weber State safety Desmond Williams (0) runs back a 65-yard interception return for a touchdown against Northern Colorado on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021, at Stewart Stadium in Ogden.
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Weber State receiver Haze Hadley, right, celebrates his touchdown reception with Hayden Meacham on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021, in a game against Northern Colorado at Stewart Stadium in Ogden.
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Weber State's Braxton Gunther (25) and Doug Schiess (99) tackle a Northern Colorado ball carrier Saturday, Nov 20, 2021, at Stewart Stadium in Ogden.
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Weber State tight end Justin Malone (88) catches a touchdown pass against Northern Colorado on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021, at Stewart Stadium in Ogden.

OGDEN — A wild contest broke out midway through the second quarter after a mundane start to the college football game Saturday at Stewart Stadium and, by the end of it, Weber State finished its season with another record-breaking performance.

For the first time in program history, three Wildcats returned interceptions for touchdowns and Weber State throttled Northern Colorado on either side of halftime on the way to win 48-17 on Saturday afternoon.

Weber State finishes the season 6-5 overall and 5-3 in the Big Sky, the program’s seventh consecutive season with a winning record. The interception return record follows a 62-0 road win at Southern Utah that entered several data points in the WSU record books and gives WSU a 110-17 margin of victory in the final two outings.

“Seven straight winning seasons is a huge deal. I think the most before was three or four, now it’s seven,” eighth-year WSU head coach Jay Hill said. “This senior class has a lot to be proud of, finish winning four of our last five and playing more like we thought we would.”

The first defensive score came from Desmond Williams. The junior safety ranged to the sideline and picked off Bears backup quarterback Alec Lewis at the 35, got blocks up the sideline, and cut back inside to complete a 65-yard touchdown return. That tied the game 10-10 with 8:18 left in the first half.

Northern Colorado answered when Lewis threw to Kassidy Woods as Jared Schiess hit him. Woods dove for the wide throw, it tipped off his fingers and into the hands of Dylan Thomas in stride, who raced for a 63-yard touchdown. With a 17-10 lead and 6:02 left in the half, that was the last time the Bears would score.

WSU played most of the game without three seniors. Safety Preston Smith and receiver Rashid Shaheed both left injured in the first half, and Sherwin Lavaka was ejected for targeting UNCo quarterback Dylan McCaffrey, which knocked McCaffrey out of the game.

“Super proud how our team handled a little bit of a slow start,” Hill said. “To have them rally behind what was going on and play so good after that was critical.”

Though Jerone Jackson picked off WSU quarterback Bronson Barron late in the half, Jackson was flagged for pass interference on the play and unsportsmanlike conduct for celebrating his non-interception.

That set up Barron hitting Justin Malone on an 8-yard slant to knot the game 17-17 with 45 seconds left in the half.

Weber State’s defense forced two incompletions and used a timeout to get the ball back with 14 seconds left.

Two plays later, Barron rolled out to buy time and fired to a streaking Haze Hadley, who reached up and won a jump ball at the 2, falling into the end zone for a 53-yard touchdown pass. Weber State snatched a 24-17 lead at halftime.

That was only the beginning of the wild turnaround.

Six plays into the second half, WSU senior safety Braxton Gunther picked off Lewis near midfield and raced to a 53-yard interception return and touchdown, making it 31-17.

Weber State’s defense then forced three consecutive tackles for loss, the final on a botched punt snap, and Josh Olave tackled the Bears punter at the Northern Colorado 8.

On the next play, senior Clay Moss muscled in an 8-yard touchdown run behind the jumbo defensive-tackles blocking package of Schiess and Sione Lapuaho, bringing the score to 38-17 with 11:40 left in the third quarter — giving Weber State 28 points in 6:02 of game time.

Later in the quarter, senior linebacker Conner Mortensen picked off Lewis at midfield and sprinted up the sideline. He picked up a big block from Eddie Heckard midway through and found the end zone for a 50-yard interception return touchdown.

“That was a big-time, because I caught the ball and he just came out of nowhere,” Mortensen said about Heckard. “And you got to see, the effort was insane. He made that block that let me take it to the house. I probably would’ve made him miss anyway, but maybe not.”

“LJ (Anderson) threw a good block on mine,” Williams said. “We work these drills to turn and block someone right away. It’s always a point of emphasis in practice and our coaches make sure we do those things so when it comes to the game it’s just second nature.”

That brought the game to the final score of 48-17 with 4:46 left in the third quarter.

Hill said he loved seeing those three players score defensive touchdowns: Williams just seven months after ACL surgery, Gunther after a stop-and-go career at Utah State, and Mortensen with his football path.

“Conner Mortensen is the epitome of what I believe college football is: a walk-on kid who loves the game so much, earns a full-ride scholarship, ends up being an All-American. To get a pick-six in his last game is huge.”

With the caveat that Northern Colorado ran 19 more plays than Weber State, the game’s yardage total finished as the following: WSU 272, NoCo 266, WSU interception returns 168.

Barron threw 14 of 21 for 155 yards and two touchowns. Hadley led the receiving effort with three catches for 68 yards. Ty MacPherson caught two balls for 36 yards and Shaheed had two for 21 yards before exiting with a leg injury.

Dontae McMillan rushed 10 times for 49 yards. Kris Jackson added 28 yards, Dave Jones 19, and Josh Davis returned after missing several games to take two handoffs for 15 yards.

Weber State’s defense racked up nine pass break-ups and 10 tackles for loss.

Okiki Olorunfunmi had two tackles for loss. Gunther, Olave and George Tarlas each had 1.5 TFLs. Heckard and Mortensen each recorded two break-ups and Williams, Olave, Tarlas, Kam Garrett and BJ Taufalele each had one.

NEXT UP

Sacramento State defeated UC Davis and won the Big Sky outright at 8-0. In playoff selection Sunday, the Big Sky was given five bids. Sacramento State was awarded the No. 4 seed and will play the winner of UC Davis at South Dakota State.

Montana got the No. 6 seed after beating up Montana State on Saturday, and will play the winner of Northern Iowa at Eastern Washington. Montana State is the No. 8 seed, playing the winner of UT-Martin and Missouri State.

Sam Houston State, North Dakota State and James Madison got the top three bids.

Weber State opens the 2022 season Sept. 3 at James Madison.

The 2022 football schedule is just as tough, if not moreso, than this season’s slate. With James Madison transitioning up, games at JMU and Utah State open the season as, essentially, two FBS road matchups. WSU’s first home game next year is scheduled for Sept. 17 against Dixie State, who will then be called Utah Tech.

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