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Weber State’s defense hangs on to 17-12 win at UC Davis; Wildcats 4-0

By Brett Hein - Standard-Examiner | Sep 24, 2022
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Weber State cornerback Eddie Heckard (5) rises to break up a UC Davis pass attempt Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022, in Davis, California.
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Weber State receiver Haze Hadley (80) tries to break free from UC Davis defensive back Blake Cotton (12) during a Big Sky football game Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022, in Davis, California.
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Weber State lineman Doug Schiess (99) and safety Naseme Colvin (9) tackle UC Davis running back Ulonzo Gilliam Jr. (34) on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022, in Davis, California.
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Weber State running back Dontae McMillan (28) prepares to stiff-arm UC Davis George Moreno (11) during a Big Sky football game Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022, in Davis, California.
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Weber State running back Josh Davis (20) runs the football as UC Davis cornerback Devon King (21) dives for a tackle attempt in a Big Sky football game Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022, in Davis, California.

Weber State’s offense got on the board in a flash and it looked like the Wildcats were off and running Saturday at UC Davis.

But the Aggies brought the Wildcats’ offense to a screeching halt for the better part of three quarters. The only problem was, UC Davis simply could not find a way to score against Weber State.

Using one final stop, on a fourth down from Weber State’s 15 with 54 seconds left, WSU’s defense stood on its head one more time to hold back a seemingly destined UC Davis team and the No. 12 Wildcats survived with a 17-12 road victory.

Weber State is now 4-0 to start the season, including a 1-0 mark in Big Sky Conference play, as it enters a bye week.

“That wasn’t easy,” WSU head coach Jay Hill groaned in his postgame radio interview. “There were times we looked really good and times where we’ve got to be way better. I know one thing: it’s hard to go on the road in the Big Sky Conference, lose the turnover margin by three and still win. We’ve got plenty to clean up.”

Weber State’s offense did secure the Wildcats an early, two-score lead. A nine-play, 68-yard drive finished on a third-and-4 when Bronson Barron extended a play, flicked a pass to Josh Davis at the sideline and he broke a tackle near the goal line for a 16-yard TD reception. That put Weber up 7-3 late in the first quarter.

The Wildcats quickly put together another scoring drive that went 80 yards in eight plays, finishing on the other side of the quarter break when Dontae McMillan totaled runs of 14 and 6 yards, the second going for a touchdown. Weber State led 14-3 with 13:46 left in the first half.

To that point, WSU had 184 yards of offense in just more than 16 minutes of action and it seemed the Wildcats had picked up where they left off when they racked up 623 yards against Utah Tech the previous week. But Weber would total only 172 more yards in the remaining 44 minutes of the game.

“The offense got on a roll in the first half where they were just up and down the field, and it just came to a halt. We’ve got to get some things fixed there,” Hill said.

On the other side, the list of ways Weber State’s defense won the game — despite UC Davis stretching the field laterally and making the Wildcats pursue every inch of the field — is a long one.

Statistically, it might be revealed in the passing game. Though star running back Ulonzo Gilliam Jr. broke free for the first time in four tries against Weber State, totaling 111 yards on 17 carries, the pass game couldn’t quite break anything open. Miles Hastings threw a whopping 39 of 57, but for only 256 yards — an average of 6.6 yards per completion.

“Man, (the defense) got out of a bunch of drives where they had us pinned … the secondary is pretty dang good,” Hill said. “You’ve got to give UC Davis a ton of credit … a lot of zigging and zagging, they do a lot of things to play with the linebackers’ eyes. They’ve got a lot of great players.”

It began from the jump. Weber State received the opening kickoff and, on the first play from scrimmage, Josh Davis fumbled. Three plays later on a third-and-3, cornerback Eddie Heckard met receiver CJ Hutton 1 yard short of the first down and dropped him in his tracks. Isaiah Gomez put through a 35-yard field goal for a 3-0 UC Davis lead, amounting to Weber’s first escape of the night.

The next time out, WSU stalled the Aggies near the 35 and Gomez missed a 50-yard field goal wide right.

Midway through the second quarter, a defensive personal foul (Weber State totaled nine penalties for 63 yards, UC Davis just two flags for 25 yards) helped the Aggies deep into WSU territory. But defensive end Shad Pulsipher deflected a third-and-8 pass to the sideline where UCD had a man open. So Gomez put through a 41-yard field goal to make it 14-6.

On UC Davis’ next possession, a pair of chunk plays got the ball near Weber’s 30 again. But linebacker Winston Reid made a huge play on third-and-6, flying into the backfield to stop a Trent Tompkins run for a loss of 3 yards. Gomez tried another 50-yard field goal and was short.

With Weber State’s offense scuffling, UC Davis seemed to have all the momentum to possibly tie the game at halftime. Hastings picked on the defense through the air on the next possession, getting the Aggies to a first-and-goal at the Weber 1 with 10 seconds left.

UC Davis ran a slow-developing underneath route for tight end McCallan Castles, breaking him free at the 3-yard line for a catch with space to operate. But Heckard — giving up 7 inches and 40 pounds to Castles — met him at the 1 and dropped him squarely there, forcing UCD to call timeout with 3 seconds left.

To the dismay of the crowd, head coach Dan Hawkins sent out the field-goal unit. Gomez’s 19-yard attempt was blocked — video appeared to show Maxwell Anderson getting a piece of it diving in from the left edge — and the ball clanged off the right upright.

With UCD set to get the ball to begin the second half, Weber State maintained a 14-6 lead.

The wonders did not cease after halftime.

The Aggies took the third quarter’s first possession and again drove near the Weber 30 after Gilliam ripped a 33-yard run on the first play. But Hastings threw incomplete to Gilliam on fourth-and-3 and UCD turned it over on downs.

Weber answered with what seemed to be a momentum-shifting drive. Barron hit Jacob Sharp on a 20-yard, back-shoulder throw to the sideline, and Josh Davis sped up the left side for a 26-yard gainer to the UCD 11.

But defensive lineman Zach Kennedy won a one-on-one battle and sacked Barron on second down. So WSU settled for a 23-yard Kyle Thompson field goal and a 17-6 lead at the 9:21 mark of the third quarter.

The Aggies kept coming. A 15-yard rush by Gilliam set up a play-action play where Hastings found Hutton up the right side for a 19-yard touchdown throw, making it 17-12 with 5:33 left in the third quarter.

UC Davis attempted a two-point play and Hastings threw too high for Castles to handle in the back of the end zone.

Weber State forced a punt to open the fourth quarter despite a Barron interception giving UC Davis a 60-yard field. The teams traded a few futile series before the Aggies took a drive from their own 14 near midfield.

But WSU forced two incomplete passes there and the Aggies, holding just one timeout, punted from the Weber 47 with 3:44 left.

Weber State appeared to make them pay. Josh Davis ran for 5 yards, then 4, and then, on a direct snap, 2 more for a first down. But he was stripped on the final run and inexplicably, UC Davis recovered the fumble at the Weber State 25-yard line with 2:22 left.

It brought back memories of the fall 2021 contest UCD won 17-14 in Ogden. WSU had outgained UCD 411-258 before the Aggies’ final drive. The Aggies went 56 yards in 13 plays, ate up 6:12 of clock, and Tompkins punched in a 1-yard touchdown with 27 seconds left.

Saturday in California, it was up to Weber State’s defense to somehow make one more stop with only 25 yards behind it.

A third-down conversion came on an 11-yard pass to Castles, taking the ball to the Weber 12 with just more than a minute left — and a go-ahead touchdown seemed inevitable.

Heckard tracked Hutton on a first-down throw and stopped him for a 1-yard gain. Maxwell Anderson broke up a second-down pass, then blew up a screen to Tompkins for a loss of 4 yards, forcing a UC Davis timeout with 54 seconds left.

On fourth-and-13 from the Weber 15, Nuu Sellesin and Kalisi Moli got pressure at the line of scrimmage, and Hastings lofted a ball against triple coverage to nobody in the back of the end zone.

One last time, Weber State’s defense made the plays it needed to keep points off the board, and WSU claimed victory.

“There’s so much good about our football team. If you can come down here and make the mistakes that we made and still pull off a win against a very, very good football team on their own field, then I think that shows you the potential of what this team could really be,” Hill said.

Safety Desmond Williams led WSU with nine tackles. Heckard, Reid and Naseme Colvin each had eight tackles, linebacker Garrett Beck totaled seven tackles and Anderson had six.

Barron finished throwing 20 of 30 for 201 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He was 11 of 13 for 132 yards when Weber took its 14-6 lead, then finished 9 of 17 for 78 yards over the final three quarters.

Josh Davis ran 20 times for 100 yards. McMillan gashed for 52 yards on only six carries. Ty MacPherson caught five balls for 70 yards, Sharp added 64 yards on six catches, and Haze Hadley had six catches for 40 yards.

AROUND THE BIG SKY

Montana State 38, Eastern Washington 35: MSU overcame an injury to starting QB Tommy Mellott and Sean Chambers scored a touchdown with 3:26 left to keep No. 4 MSU undefeated.

Sacramento State 41, Colorado State 10: Sac State outgained CSU 395-253 and the No. 7 Hornets turned in the Big Sky’s second crushing defeat of a Mountain West school (after Weber’s 35-7 win over Utah State) to finish nonconference play.

Montana 53, Portland State 16: Montana looked every bit the No. 2 team, scoring 39 points in the first half on the way to a rout of PSU.

Idaho 27, Northern Arizona 10: Idaho looks like a spoiler to be reckoned with after holding NAU to just 184 total yards.

Northern Colorado 35, Idaho State 14: In a game between teams with no expectations, NoCo broke open a 14-14 tie in the fourth quarter, despite being outgained for the game, when Elijah Dotson housed an 82-yard punt return and the Bears returned a fumble for a touchdown.

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