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No. 7 Weber State football survives on late field goal, topping Northern Arizona 33-31

By Brett Hein - Standard-Examiner | Nov 19, 2022

ROBERT CASEY, Weber State Athletics

Weber State's Abraham Williams (38) takes a lead block from Hudson Schenck on the way to a 100-yard kickoff return touchdown against Northern Arizona on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022, in Flagstaff, Ariz.

Josh Davis became the second all-time leading rusher in program history, Abraham Williams set a Big Sky Conference record with his fourth kickoff return for a touchdown this season, and — when Kyle Thompson booted through a 23-yard field goal with 5 seconds remaining — Weber State football survived a series of gaffes in the second half to defeat Northern Arizona 33-31 on Saturday in Flagstaff, Arizona.

The win gives No. 7 Weber State a 9-2 record to finish the regular season, ultimately securing one final victory to boost the team’s postseason resume ahead of Sunday’s selection show. The Wildcats have now reached the nine-win mark six times in program history, with four coming under current head coach Jay Hill. Hill simultaneously reached his 50th Big Sky win (50-18).

But it wasn’t easy, and WSU helped Northern Arizona at plenty of moments along the way. The Lumberjacks (3-8) suffered their second straight home defeat to a top-10 team on a last-second field goal, having lost 41-38 to No. 3 Montana State two weeks ago.

“Well, we kept it fun and interesting, huh? That’s about the only way to say it.” Hill said.

Tied 21-21 at halftime, Weber had plenty of chances to pull away thanks to 300 combined return yards from Williams and Hudson Schenck, with Schenck (six returns, 102 yards) providing stellar field position in the punt-return game.

ROBERT CASEY, Weber State Athletics

Weber State receiver Ty MacPherson (1) holds up the newly minted Red Rock Rivalry trophy after WSU defeated Northern Arizona 33-31 on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022, in Flagstaff, Ariz.

Thompson booted a 39-yard field goal on WSU’s first possession of the second half to put his team up 24-21. And after Northern Arizona quarterback RJ Martinez lit up the Wildcats through the air in the first half, the Weber State defense made NAU go three-and-out all five times it got the ball in the third quarter.

Weber State’s offense, meanwhile, couldn’t take advantage.

A possession that began at the NAU 28 resulted in a turnover on downs when Jacob Sharp dropped a slant on fourth-and-3. A drive that began at the NAU 43 only resulted in a field goal after Davis Rasmussen committed a false start penalty on third-and-1 at the NAU 8. And a possession that begin at midfield was fumbled away on the first carry; Dontae McMillan gave up the ball and appeared to immediately recover but possession was curiously awarded to the Lumberjacks with no review.

So despite outgaining NAU 90-9 in the third quarter, WSU’s advantage was only 27-21 after scoring just three points on three possessions that began at the 50 or better.

“We had some dropped balls that hurt us, missed throws that hurt us and some coverage things that hurt us. But you’ve got to give NAU credit,” Hill said. “We knew going in they could be an explosive offense … the quarterback I love, I think he’s a very good player.”

ROBERT CASEY, Weber State Athletics

Weber State's Doug Schiess, center, wraps up Northern Arizona's Coleman Owen, right, in a game Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022, in Flagstaff, Ariz.

It got worse to open the third quarter. With Northern Arizona spinning its wheels offensively, Weber State attempted a fake punt on fourth-and-3 from its own 16. Punter Jack Burgess sailed a pass over a wide-open Doug Schiess in the flat for what would have been an easy first down.

So instead, the Lumberjacks took the lead for the first time in the game four plays later when Martinez hit Hendrix Johnson on a short crossing route and he angled into the end zone for a 28-27 lead with 11:40 left in the game.

“Some of those calls are on me,” Hill said. “I decided to go for a fake punt backed up. I knew that was risky but it was there and we knew it was there. We’ve just got to execute.”

Despite struggles in connecting with field-flipping pass plays all game, Bronson Barron saved a third-and-19 after taking his only sack of the day. He found a streaking Jon Christensen up the middle of the field, and Christensen slid down to his knees to secure a 38-yard reception.

That led to Thompson putting through a 41-yard field goal for a 30-28 lead with 7:12 remaining.

ROBERT CASEY, Weber State Athletics

A Weber State tackler takes down a Northern Arizona player on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022, in Flagstaff, Ariz.

For the only time in the second half, Northern Arizona mounted any semblance of a drive to answer, with Martinez completing medium passes to rally the ‘Jacks to the Weber State 24.

The Wildcats seemed to have all but won the game there on third down when WSU defensive end Nuu Sellesin recorded his unit’s only sack of the game and stripped Martinez in the process. But two WSU players fumbled around for possession as the ball bounced forward until ultimately an NAU player recovered.

That allowed Collin Robbins to kick a 39-yard field goal and put the home team up 31-30 with 2:50 left.

Weber State was a playoff lock before Saturday, but any scenario that sees Weber State gain a top-eight playoff seed required the Wildcats to put behind its mistakes and drive for the win.

Five positive plays picked up two first downs to the NAU 43 for the Wildcats, but time ticked below 1 minute when McMillan was stopped for no gain on a first-down rush.

But on a play-action pass, Barron threw a strike to Ty MacPherson up the left sideline. He beat his man, fought through plenty of contact and hauled in a 33-yarder to the NAU 10 with 41 seconds left.

Four plays later, Thompson kicked through the game-winner. Thompson was 4 of 4 on field goals Saturday.

“Field goals were huge. Kyle Thompson, big-time deal. Grant Sands and Jack (Burgess) with the snaps and holds, and those were pressure kicks. So I’m fired up for that unit,” Hill said. “Hudson Schenck was outstanding in the punt-return game … every time he caught it seemed like he had 15 yards.”

Barron finished 19 of 33 for 22o yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. MacPherson caught eight balls for 97 yards. Schenck added three catches for 29 yards, Christensen had two for 42, and Sharp added two for 39.

Davis’ 80 rushing yards led WSU, with Bankston adding 32 and McMillan 30.

A game full of missed chances started on the first play of the first quarter. Sharp burned his defender and got deep downfield but Barron threw the ball too far to the inside of the field instead of meeting Sharp with the ball up the sideline, allowing an NAU safety to catch up and break up the play.

Weber’s afternoon full of short fields started early when Burgess checked up a punt three plays later at the NAU 3. The Wildcats forced a three-and-out, and Hudson Schenck returned the ensuing punt from the Northern Arizona 42 to the 18.

Barron finished the short drive with a beautiful pitch-and-catch fade to MacPherson for a 5-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead.

Davis moved up WSU’s all-time leaderboards to open the next drive by ripping a 40-yard rush up the left side. That play moved him into second on Weber State’s all-time rushing yards list, past Nick Chournos, and fifth on the all-purpose yards list, past Tim Toone. He finished with 80 yards on nine carries and now has 3,643 career rushing yards.

McMillan broke a tackle on a third-down pass to continue that drive, and backup quarterback Creyton Cooper finished it with a 1-yard touchdown rush for a 14-0 lead.

Weber was close to a 21-0 lead when Schenck beat his man on a slant and had an open field, but the throw was off target. Schenck dove and made a 15-yard catch but had a likely TD if he had been able to keep his feet. WSU then attempted its first fake punt of the day and Burgess hit Christensen for a first down but it was called back due to an ineligible player downfield.

Six plays later, Northern Arizona got rolling. Martinez threw a rope to Johnson up the right sideline for a 45-yard touchdown pass, making it 14-7 early in the second quarter.

That’s when Williams returned his fourth kickoff return for a touchdown this season for a 21-7 margin. That sets a record in the Big Sky for most kick-return TDs in one season (it’s still one shy of the FCS record for one season). Weber State’s Rashid Shaheed still holds the FCS career record at seven; Williams, a sophomore, is more than halfway there.

It was a 100-plus yarder for Williams, just like his other three. That, apparently, ties an NCAA record for most 100-yard kick return touchdowns in one season. Reggie Dunn, coached by Hill at Utah in 2012, also accomplished the feat.

A 35-yard pass from Martinez to Coleman Owen set up a quick answer for Northern Arizona, a 12-yard Draycen Hall rushing score to make it 21-14.

Weber State’s next possession ended on downs, 1 yard short of a first down at the NAU 35.

The Lumberjacks mounted a 13-play, 65-yard drive taking 6:15 off the clock to tie the game at halftime. On third-and-goal from the 6, Martinez looped around the field to avoid a rushing Jack Kelly and bought enough time to find Isaiah Gerena for a touchdown with 1 second remaining in the half.

Things looked iffy at halftime. Martinez was 21 of 27 for 234 yards and NAU had outgained WSU 285-167.

Fast-forward to after Thompson’s game-winning kick and NAU had one more play from scrimmage with 5 seconds left. The Lumberjacks took an 18-yard loss attempting a multi-lateral miracle play, which gave them 10 points on only 55 yards in the second half. Martinez was 10 of 16 for 51 yards after halftime.

Coleman and Johnson had huge games for the Lumberjacks, each catching nine balls for 115 and 113 yards, respectively.

The win is Hill’s first in Flagstaff in three tries, giving him at least one win at every Big Sky locale.


No. 2 Sacramento State 27, No. 24 UC Davis 21

No. 3 Montana State 55, No. 13 Montana 21

No. 21 Idaho 38, Idaho State 7

Eastern Washington 45, Northern Colorado 21


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