Utah pulls away from Weber State for 40-17 victory; Shaheed ties kick-return record
SALT LAKE CITY — Facing a Utah team with a quarterback unlike any the Utes have started in the Pac-12 era, and a defense with talent and size unlike anything Weber State will see again, the Wildcats acquitted themselves in several bright moments Thursday night at Rice-Eccles Stadium, fell flat in others and, ultimately, left with plenty of film to use for the remainder of the regular season against 10 FCS opponents.
No. 24 (FBS) Utah slowly pulled away for a 40-17 win over No. 6 (FCS) Weber State on the strength of senior transfer quarterback Charlie Brewer and an impressive stable of tight ends, while Weber State shook off a slow offensive start and found some success.
It was more success than the Wildcats found three years ago in the same stadium, a game in which WSU gained just 59 net yards. Thursday, Bronson Barron threw 21 of 33 for 213 yards and a touchdown, and the Wildcats gained 270 yards of offense.
A record-tying feat was Weber State’s biggest highlight, and perhaps it was Rashid Shaheed’s electricity that resulted in a 90-minute weather delay.
Utah took a 3-0 lead in the first quarter when Marque Collins and George Tarlas made key tackles inside the 10, and a dropped TD pass forced a Jadon Redding 25-yard field goal.
Redding then lofted a high kickoff perfectly to the goal line for Shaheed, who got blocks from Josh Davis, Clay Moss and Logan Snyder at the point of attack. That was all Shaheed needed to knife up the middle of the field with tons of space to operate. He angled toward the left pylon as Winston Reid escorted him past Redding’s failed tackle attempt at the Utah 15.
When he crossed the goal line, Shaheed had completed his sixth career kickoff return for a touchdown, tying the all-time FCS record, and his fourth of 100 yards, to put his team up 7-3 with 8:26 left in the first quarter.
“It’s a blessing to be able to make plays for my team and put us in a position to win games. Our coaches put us in great positions to make plays,” Shaheed said. “It takes all 11 of us on the unit and I was able to make the play, and all 11 guys were doing their job.”
Immediately after Kyle Thompson punched through the extra point at 5:47 p.m., referees announced the game was going under weather delay due to lightning in the area. Not long after, dark clouds covered Rice-Eccles Stadium and lightning struck several times overhead as the skies opened to a downpour. An hour later, nearby lightning continued despite the emergence of the sun, which restarted the 30-minute restart clock with every strike.
The game resumed at 7:18 p.m. and Utah needed only five plays to retake the lead, ending with a 17-yard pass from Brewer to tight end Dalton Kincaid, a transfer from the FCS non-scholarship squad at San Diego, to make it 10-7.
Early in the second quarter, Barron threw his only pick when a throw in the middle of the field to Randal Grimes tipped off his fingers, bounced off a Utah helmet and was caught by a diving Devin Lloyd.
That set up the Utes for a quick 31-yard drive complete with a 12-yard Tavion Thomas touchdown to make it 19-7.
Then came a moment where Weber State fell flat. The Wildcats took a 17-play, 74-yard drive to the Utah 1 when, after Barron led the offense with passing strikes, WSU lined up under center and Davis ran between the tackles for 8 yards and then 4 more to set up first-and-goal.
What followed was a Josh Davis run from the shotgun stuffed for no gain; true freshman quarterback Creyton Cooper entered the game and lost a yard on a keeper; on third down, Barron had Moss out of the backfield for a score but the throw was on the wrong side, and Moss couldn’t hang on; and, on fourth down, Cooper re-entered and was stopped at the 1 on a run to the right.
Between that sequence and totaling 11 penalties for 98 yards, head coach Jay Hill focused mostly on things WSU needs to fix after the game.
“I was not real happy with the cleanliness on our side. I thought we had opportunities to take advantage of a couple things and jumped offside way too many times,” Hill said. “You’re going up against this team, you can’t afford to do that.”
Weber opened the fourth quarter by returning the favor, answering a question Hill had before the game which was: when adversity hits, will his team fight or give up.
Utah took a drive to the WSU 5 with pass plays of 22 and 12 yards, seemingly having the Wildcats on their heels. But on first down, Sherwin Lavaka dropped rusher Micah Bernard for a 2-yard loss; Eddie Heckard ran down Britain Covey on a route to the sideline and tossed him out of bounds for a 1-yard gain; Utah put Covey in motion on the outside for an inside screen with momentum and Lavaka stopped it at the 1; and, on fourth down, Kalisi Moli and Logan Lutui stopped running back Chris Curry for no gain.
“I do like the resilience and toughness of our football team and I think we’ll only get better,” Hill said. “This is a real team we have.”
WSU senior safety Preston Smith said he took most of the blame for Brewer’s night throwing 19 of 27 for 233 yards as he was often matched up against Utah’s skilled tight ends of Kincaid (four catches, 75 yards, two TDs) and Brant Kuithe (three catches, 44 yards). But Smith knew where things stood after the game.
“We won’t face a better team than that the entire year, even when we’re in the natty. Because that team’s picked to win the Pac-12, and they’ll win the Pac-12. They’re a really good team,” Smith said. “I think we can take away that we’re a physical team. We’re physical, we stood there nose to nose and fought our a– off … we’re not going to back down, we’re not going to quit.”
Weber finished its night scoring late in the fourth when Dontae McMillan rushed for 34 yards and Barron hit Weber High alum Hudson Schenck for 22 yards to the Utah 2. Two plays later, Barron lofted a play-action pass to wide-open Layton High alum Hayden Meacham for a touchdown.
Justin Malone had five catches for 50 yards and Ty MacPherson five catches for 48 to lead WSU. Grimes had two receptions for 41 yards. McMillan led the run game with 39 yards on seven carries.
Defensively, Smith led WSU with nine tackles with one for a loss, and a pass break-up. Heckard, Marque Collins and Ja’Kobe Harris each had five tackles, and Conner Mortensen recorded WSU’s only sack.
Thomas rushed 12 times for 107 yards for Utah. Solomon Enis added four catches for 62 yards, and Lloyd led the defense with 12 tackles, two for loss, and his interception.
Both teams next play on Saturday, Sept. 11. Weber State travels to play Dixie State and Utah plays at BYU, with both games kicking off at 8 p.m. or later.
Utah paid a couple of touching tributes to late running back Ty Jordan, who died Christmas Day 2020 of an accidental gunshot wound in Texas.
After the end of the first quarter, staff unveiled a new sign over Portal 22, Jordan’s number, dedicating that portal to him and adding photos of Jordan to the walls leading into the stadium bowl. At the end of the third quarter, a video narrated by Utah coach Kyle Whittingham played on the stadium’s massive new videoboard in which Whittingham called for a moment of “loudness and joy” to remember Jordan, after which fans rose to their feet and cheered while fireworks shot from the south end zone.