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Fakes, fumbles and fortitude: Weber State upsets No. 2 Eastern Washington 35-34

By Brett Hein - | Oct 23, 2021

Robert Casey, Weber State Athletics

Weber State receiver Ty MacPherson (17) runs for a big gain as Eastern Washington's Marlon Jones Jr. (20) pursues during a game Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021, in Cheney, Wash.

Eastern Washington lost two fumbles in the first half that kept the Eagles from completing drives. Weber State lost two fumbles in the second half that gave a struggling EWU offense short scoring fields.

Weber State successfully executed three fake punts that led to 13 points, Eastern Washington missed a PAT that would have tied the game with 2:51 left, and WSU held on to upset the No. 2 Eagles 35-34 on Saturday evening in Cheney, Washington.

The win keeps playoff hopes alive for Weber State (3-4, 2-2 Big Sky) and ends a 20-game EWU (7-1, 4-1) home win streak that began after a WSU win on the red turf in 2017.

“Absolutely outstanding effort (in) many phases of the game,” WSU head coach Jay Hill said. “Fired up about this one. I love playing on this field.”

It was senior running back Dave Jones who delivered game-sealing plays in both those wins. As a freshman in 2017, Jones rushed in a 24-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown run to cap a 28-20 victory.

In between, Jones was moved to defense as a cornerback, became a kick-coverage ace, and then was switched back to running back.

Saturday, with junior Josh Davis shelved with an injury, Jones helped buoy the WSU rushing attack. EWU expended its final timeout with 1:58 left as Weber led 35-34, facing a third-and-8 at its own 41.

Randall Johnson, at quarterback because Bronson Barron suffered a cut to his throwing hand late in the third quarter, took a shotgun snap and gave the read-option run to Jones.

Jones beat the first man around the right edge to get past the line of scrimmage, cut back to stay in bounds, then danced around a would-be tackler near the sticks and sprinted for 32 yards to the Eastern 27 and a game-winning first down.

Weber kneeled out the clock and claimed its win in front of a stunned Eastern crowd.

“I said ‘guys, trust Dave Jones. He’ll make a play. In this kind of game, he’ll make a play’ and I was so excited for that kid,” Hill said.

Eastern Washington led 7-0 when it took its second possession of the game 80 yards in 11 plays, capped by a 13-yard running score from star quarterback Eric Barriere. For large portions of the game, Barriere’s legs were Eastern’s offense — especially his ability to escape constant WSU pressure and save plays on the ground or through the air.

The Eagles fumbled the ball five times in the first quarter and the last two stifled would-be scoring drives at the Weber 19- and 35-yard lines when the Wildcats finally found the ball for recoveries.

The second was forced and recovered by WSU linebacker Winston Reid on a run play and set up Weber’s first scoring drive.

On third-and-13 from the Eastern 45, Barron lofted the ball down the sideline for Rashid Shaheed. Underthrown, Shaheed came back to it and won the ball over two EWU defenders, then rolled forward to the EWU 1.

“We got Shaheed the ball like we needed to,” Hill said. “I got on the headset and said ‘I don’t care what you call right now, but throw it deep to Rashid.’ (Matt) Hammer responded, did a phenomenal job and fired up for the overall production for what just happened.”

Kris Jackson punched it in from there to tie it 7-7.

Eastern answered by converting a fourth-and-3 near midfield and marching to a 3-yard Barriere-to-Dylan Ingram throwing TD to go up 14-7.

Weber State returned the favor with the first of its three fake punts on a fourth-and-3 from the EWU 44. The snap went to blocking back Mitchel Maxfield, who rumbled 7 yards for a first down.

That drive ended with a 31-yard Kyle Thompson field goal and a 14-10 score.

After a stop, Weber faced a fourth-and-3 from its own 27 and 32 seconds left in the first half after the Eagles called timeout to try and get the ball back.

Instead of giving the ball back to Barriere, WSU called another fake punt that saw punter Mackenzie Morgan roll to the left side for 10 yards and out of bounds.

Robert Casey, Weber State Athletics Weber State punter Mackenzie Morgan (41) runs for a first down on a fake punt against Eastern Washington on Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021, in Cheney, Wash.

Two plays later, Barron fired over the top of pressure to Ty MacPherson, who turned upfield for major yards-after-catch, a 41-yard gain to the Eastern 22.

Thompson punched through a 45-yard field goal as time expired and WSU went to the locker room trailing 14-13.

Struggling in the middle part of the game to keep Barron out of pressure, WSU’s offensive line missed several blocks on the right side and Barron was blindsided as he reared back to throw on a second-down play near midfield to open the third quarter.

That hit launched the ball loose and EWU’s Caleb Davis returned it 40 yards to the Weber 6.

Two plays later, Eastern scored on a 4-yard Dennis Merritt run to make it 21-13.

Weber State answered by giving the ball to its running backs. Jackson ran for the first 30 rushing yards of the drive, then Dontae McMillan finished with runs of 18 and 7 yards — the latter a touchdown that made it 21-20 with 11:03 left in the third quarter.

From there, perhaps the game’s biggest swing came as Weber held Eastern to 9 yards of offense in the quarter and national player of the year candidate Barriere to 1 of 8 for 8 passing yards.

Barron left the game just before the scoreboard flipped to the fourth quarter.

Facing a fourth-and-4 at the EWU 43, Weber State’s deep array of fake kicks had no problem supplying one more conversion. Morgan took the snap and lofted a ball to defensive tackle Jared Schiess in the flat. In his 55th career game, a new WSU program record for most games played, Schiess rumbled for a 20-yard gain to the EWU 23.

WSU took its first lead of the game when Jackson finished the drive on a 9-yard scoring run on third-and-7, putting the Wildcats up 27-21.

Eastern responded by picking up its first first down of the second half when Barriere found Ingram for 20 yards but, on the next play, he fired over the middle and Weber’s Eddie Heckard ranged back and leaped to pick off the throw, returning it 19 yards to the Eastern 43.

More Jones runs set up Jackson’s third touchdown of the game, a 13-yard score up the middle on third-and-6.

WSU ran a play-action pass for a two-point try that saw Johnson look right, then toss left to an open Hayden Meacham, and Weber State led 35-21 with 8:42 left.

The Eagles finally got off the mat on the next possession. Barriere scrambled for 27 rushing yards on pass plays with nowhere to throw, setting up a 30-yard touchdown pass to tight end Blake Gobel. Gobel caught the ball at the 15 and motored his legs the final 10 yards through a roaming scrum to find the end zone.

That made it 35-28 with 6:12 left.

Outside of the Barron hit-and-fumble, Weber had played a clean game and was plus-2 in the turnover margin until late. Jackson, having a great game after struggling with injuries the last two seasons, picked up a third-and-1 at the Weber 37 that looked like it could set up the Wildcats to salt away the clock.

But Eastern’s Joshua Jerome put a helmet on the ball after Jackson picked up the first down, jarring it loose for teammate Calin Criner to recover at the WSU 39.

Barriere sprinted for a 24-yard designed run on the next play and the Eagles slowly churned ground gains until a Merrit 1-yard touchdown rush to make it 35-34 with 2:51 left.

But Seth Harrison’s extra point kick sailed wide left. WSU may have made contact with the football in the air, but video replays were not conclusive about a possible block.

Weber State was called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after the missed kick, meaning Eastern kicked off from the 50-yard line. With three timeouts left, the Eagles opted not to attempt an onside kick and booted a touchback.

Because of Jones’ big run, those timeouts went for naught and EWU never got the ball back.

With the third-quarter defensive lockdown, also key to Weber’s win might be the whopping 95 plays the Wildcats ran offensively. WSU’s defense stood on its head again, but EWU also ran 19 fewer plays, limiting Barriere’s chances for explosive gains.

A week after throwing for 600 yards and seven touchdowns, Barriere finished 19 of 39 for 245 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He also led his team with 85 yards on 12 carries and somehow escaped taking any sacks.

Talolo Limu-Jones returned from injury and caught three balls for 47 yards to lead EWU receivers.

Weber State’s stats display a list of collective effort.

Barron threw 21 of 34 for 226 yards; Johnson added 4 of 6 for 23 yards; Mackenzie Morgan added his 20-yard fake punt pass; and Creyton Cooper threw an incomplete pass. Together, WSU passers were 26 of 42 for 269 yards, no touchdowns, zero interceptions.

Jackson led WSU rushers with 19 carries for 93 yards and his three scores. Jones’ sealing run gave him a nice total of 69 yards on nine carries, McMillan added 49 yards on seven carries, and Johnson ran twice from the QB spot for 18 yards.

Shaheed caught five balls for 103 yards in the first half and ended with six catches for 109 yards. MacPherson totaled 67 yards on five receptions, and Haze Hadley added 26 yards on four catches.

Hadley also subbed in for Shaheed as a punt returner and, after WSU’s fourth consecutive three-and-out stop of Eastern’s offense in the third quarter, Hadley deftly dove on a rolling punt that saved his team 15-20 yards in field position.

That gave Weber the ball at the EWU 49 and set up the go-ahead TD drive.

Preston Smith led WSU tacklers with 10. Desmond Williams played his first full game back from a knee injury suffered in the spring season and offered a well-played QB spy role in the second half; he finished with eight tackles. Heckard added seven tackles to his interception.

Weber State outgained the high-powered Eagles 482-434.

In its fourth game against a ranked opponent this season, Weber State picked up a crucial win that began its “playoff” to make the playoffs.

Next up: a road contest at Idaho State (1-6, 1-4) on Oct. 30, before hosting Portland State, traveling to Southern Utah, and closing at home against Northern Colorado.

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