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Backup QB leads UC Davis to late touchdown, Aggies beat Weber State 17-14

By Brett Hein - | Sep 25, 2021

Robert Casey, Weber State Athletics

Weber State defensive end George Tarlas (44) meets UC Davis running back Ulonzo Gilliam Jr. (34) in a pile-up Saturday, Sept. 26, 2021, at Stewart Stadium in Ogden.

OGDEN — In a low-scoring football game, one play can turn the tide and swing the result.

There were four such plays in Saturday’s Big Sky opener between No. 14 Weber State and No. 12 UC Davis, and the final one came with one minute left and WSU desperately trying to hold its 14-10 lead.

The Weber defense — having harrassed starter Hunter Rodrigues all night into an inefficient, subpar performance — had just sacked his backup, Miles Hastings, on first-and-goal.

On second down from the 12, receiver CJ Hutton seemed to trip and fall on his own accord in the end zone, but Eddie Heckard was flagged for pass interference. Two plays later, wildcat QB Trent Tompkins took a snap around the left side for a 1-yard touchdown with 27 seconds left and UC Davis claimed a 17-14 victory at Stewart Stadium.

Weber State (1-3, 0-1 Big Sky) head coach Jay Hill lamented a long list of little things his team could have done to win. That included better practices at the end of the week, avoiding costly penalties, and winning the turnover margin.

Robert Casey, Weber State Athletics

Weber State defensive end McKade Mitton (48) chases UC Davis quarterback Hunter Rodrigues (12) out of the pocket Saturday, Sept. 26, 2021, at Stewart Stadium in Ogden.

“Finding a way out of that drive in the end,” Hill said as he made his list.  “There’s a lot of opportunities we had, just somebody make a play, everybody do what they’re supposed to do at that moment and get out of the drive, and the game’s over and we win.”

Frustratingly for WSU, on the second play of the game-winning drive, Preston Smith found himself in Hastings’ face on a pass play. He jumped and batted Hastings’ pass attempt high in the air and the two battled for the jump ball. Hastings was able to do just enough to keep Smith from grabbing an interception.

The Wildcats expected to be able to make more plays like that against a backup QB.

“We need to capitalize on someone that doesn’t have as much experience coming in, and being able to take advantage of maybe their mistakes or not being as familiar with the offense,” WSU defensive tackle Jared Schiess said. “It didn’t change anything we were doing, but we need to capitalize on game-time changes, such as a different quarterback.”

For three quarters, Weber had yet another defensive gem against the usually high-powered UC Davis (4-0, 1-0) offense, something that has become commonplace in the series. Rodrigues finished 11 of 26 for 99 yards through the air (he entered averaging 253 yards per game).

Robert Casey, Weber State Athletics

Weber State defensive end George Tarlas (44) tackles UC Davis quarterback Trent Tompkins (18) on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2021, at Stewart Stadium in Ogden.

Rodrigues was hurt while tackled on a run play — he appeared to hit his head on the turf — and Hastings finished that fourth-quarter drive with an incomplete pass.

Hastings only had one more drive, the game-winning one, and he went 7 of 8 for 50 yards. The Smith break-up behind the line of scrimmage was his only incompletion.

“You’ve got to give that No. 7 credit. He came in and threw some really good balls,” Hill said. “The mindset on defense has got to change a little bit in that moment, where he wasn’t quite the runner that Rodrigues was. We’ve got to do a little better job of getting out of those drives with some different looks on defense.

“He … went 7 of 9. That can’t happen with the backup quarterback, hitting us with that kind of production. It was only for 50 yards, but that’s too much.”

The second tide-turning play came in the third quarter after Weber State took a 14-7 lead on a 10-play, 70-yard drive that saw Randal Grimes get both of his two receptions for 25 yards, Josh Davis break a 21-yard run, and Dontae McMillan score on an 11-yard rush.

Freddie Lacy, Weber State Athletics

Weber State quarterback Kylan Weisser (16) surveys the defense as UC Davis linebacker James Scharetg (33) prepares for the snap Saturday, Sept. 26, 2021, at Stewart Stadium in Ogden.

UC Davis began to soften up the WSU run defense on its ensuing possession and made its way to the WSU 15.

Sherwin Lavaka recorded a 3-yard tackle-for-loss on second-and-1, then McKade Mitton chased Rodrigues to the sideline and forced a throw into coverage. Weber safety Braxton Gunther picked off the throw at the 5 and returned it near the 20.

Behind the play, defensive end Okiki Olorunfunmi leaped to contest the Rodrigues throw and landed somewhat in his vicinity as Rodrigues fell out of bounds following his off-balance throw. Olorunfunmi was flagged for roughing the passer to give the Aggies a goal-to-go series.

Replay showed no roughing foul was committed. In college, such plays cannot be reviewed or challenged.

“Frustrating, huh?” Hill said about having no recourse for the late interference call, or the roughing penalty. “Yep … yep.”

Freddie Lacy, Weber State Athletics

Weber State defensive lineman Jared Schiess (91) lines up for a snap against UC Davis on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2021, at Stewart Stadium in Ogden.

WSU’s defense stood on its head and forced a field goal, which Isaiah Gomez punched through from 23 yards. Instead of a 14-7 lead with Weber possession, it was 14-10 — three points that proved large by the end.

The other two game-swinging plays happened in the second quarter.

Weber State had just finished a punishing 14-play, 94-yard drive when Davis took in a swing pass from 8 yards out for a touchdown moments into the second frame to go up 7-0.

The Wildcats forced the Aggies into a quick three-and-out and got the ball right back at their own 35. In seven plays, WSU faced second-and-1 from the UC Davis 23 after a 9-yard run from Davis.

Sophomore quarterback Kylan Weisser, who got his first career start, sent an underthrown pass to the end zone on second down that tight end Justin Malone did well to make an incomplete pass rather than an interception.

On third down, WSU ran a double-outs play on the near side, with Rashid Shaheed short and Ty MacPherson long. MacPherson was open out of his break, but the ball arrived late and wide. On fourth down, Dontae McMillan was stuffed on a run up the middle. Suddenly, a tide of WSU momentum was broken.

The fourth game-changing play came on the next series. Davis punted deep and Jordan Perryman made a leaning catch to down it at the Weber 1.

On the next play, WSU lined up in four-wide shotgun and the Aggies brought some heat. Weisser tried to unload deep downfield but Perryman nabbed the underthrown ball at the WSU 26 for an interception.

Ulonzo Gilliam Jr. scored a 3-yard touchdown run four plays later and the game was tied 7-7. Instead of what might have been a two-score WSU lead moments earlier, the short-field gift meant the game was tied at halftime despite the Wildcats leading total yardage 282-113.

“It was a blitz and it was one of those little things we need to focus on,” Weisser said. “I should’ve thrown the ball out of bounds and instead I tried to get it out and the ball died on me, and it was underneath our receiver.”

By game’s end, Weber outgained UC Davis 411-314. Despite a decent showing from Weisser in his first start and more than 400 yards of offense, the Wildcats had only 14 points to show for it.

Weisser finished 19 of 32 for 225 yards. MacPherson caught five balls for 74 yards, Shaheed three for 52, and Grimes two for 25. Davis rushed 15 times for 87 yards and McMillan eight times for 46 yards — each an average of 5.8 yards per carry.

Gunther led WSU with eight tackles and Schiess had six.

For UC Davis, Gilliam Jr. ran 14 times for 62 yards, Rodrigues added 46 ground yards, and Tompkins ran six times for 31 yards. Hutton caught two balls for 24 yards, McCallan Castles two for 22, and Jared Harrell four for 19.

Weber State suffered two losses to teams who are likely to each be ranked in the top 10 in next week’s polls. But with a 1-2 record against FCS opponents and an 0-1 start to league play, WSU’s margin of error is small going forward when it comes to potential playoff qualification.

The Wildcats will try to regroup with a trip to Cal Poly (1-3, 0-1) on Oct. 2 before reaching a bye week.

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