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Weber State football: Wildcats rally, give up 4th-quarter lead in 31-23 loss at Eastern Washington

By BRETT HEIN - Standard-Examiner | Oct 21, 2023
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Weber State receiver Treyshun Hurry (18) rushes the football against Eastern Washington on Saturday, Oct. 21, 2023, in Cheney, Wash.
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Weber State's Jack Kelly, right, tackles Eastern Washington's Blake Gobel on Saturday, Oct. 21, 2023, in Cheney, Wash.

Saturday’s football matchup between Weber State and Eastern Washington played out a lot like the last several in the series: mostly close and down to the wire.

But this time it was the “Freaky Friday” version: the Wildcats stayed in the game with explosive plays but hurt themselves with penalties, while it was the Eagles putting together not one, but two 18-play touchdown drives on a run-heavy approach.

Weber State took its only lead of the game on the first play of the fourth quarter, a 7-yard touchdown run from quarterback Richie Munoz, but Eastern answered quickly and scored two touchdowns in the final frame for a 31-23 victory on the red turf of Roos Field in Cheney, Washington.

“The defense put our guys in good positions to make plays, but we’ve got to make tackles and get off the field on third down,” WSU head coach Mickey Mental said. “We’ve got to make more plays to win the game.”

The Munoz rushing touchdown capped a seven-play, 61-yard drive and put Weber State (3-5, 1-4 Big Sky) ahead 20-17 with 14:56 left in the game.

The true freshman QB and redshirt freshman Treyshun Hurry put pressure on the Eastern Washington defense with consecutive holding and pass interference penalties on the drive; otherwise, Hurry’s seven catches for 115 yards might have been even more eye-popping.

But what happened next was somewhat indicative of how the game went for Weber State. On a few occasions, untimely penalties undid the momentum the Wildcats had clawed to gather.

On EWU’s second play after WSU took the lead, Jared Taylor’s 8-yard rush to midfield and out of bounds was amplified when WSU kicker Sloan Calder gave him a weak chest bump on the sideline, good for a 15-yard penalty. Kekoa Visperas threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Tuna Altahir two plays later to put the Eagles back in front 24-20.

The Wildcats got into field goal range when redshirt freshman Adrian Cormier ripped a 32-yard run and Kyle Thompson booted through a 34-yard field goal to make it 24-23 with 10:21 left.

Cormier finished with 10 carries for 90 yards.

But unlike it had done most of the season, Eastern Washington took the ball out of Visperas’ hands and turned back to its direct-snap rushing game — taking the ball out of Weber State’s hands as well. Michael Wortham gained 40 yards on eight carries in that role before going out with an injury and this time, it was Taylor’s turn.

Taylor rushed 11 times for 51 yards on Eastern’s final drive. He picked up three third downs and a crucial fourth down as the Eagles took a whopping 8:40 off the clock over 18 plays, capped on a third-and-goal Taylor touchdown run from the 3-yard line with 1:37 left for a 31-23 lead.

The Eagles ultimately finished 8 of 14 on third downs and 2 of 2 on fourth downs.

Weber State had gone toe-to-toe to that point, in points and yardage, until the 84-yard drive.

The Wildcats weren’t done. Two plays later, Munoz launched to Haze Hadley in the middle of the field. Hadley hauled in a 47-yarder while being pulled down by the jersey in an uncalled-interference situation. That got WSU to the EWU 34-yard line with 1 minute left.

A pass interference called against Eastern got the ball to the 18 but the game ended on three incompletions, the final one a throw to Hayden Meacham across the middle at the 5-yard line that was broken up by Derek Ganter with seven seconds on the clock.

Munoz was 18 of 31 for 213 yards and no turnovers. The true freshman put together another game of good decision-making from start to finish, while the skill and timing with receivers took a step forward.

“Really happy with how Rich competed throughout the game,” Mental said about Munoz. “Taking care of the ball and obviously ad-libbing to make big plays down the field when things got bottled up. So that’s good for him. We’ve got to win the game, though.”

Taylor finished with 79 yards on 17 carries for Eastern Washington. Running back Tuna Altahir had season-best performances on the ground (13 carries, 61 yards) and through the air (four catches, 64 yards). Visperas was 20 of 27 for 228 yards.

Defensively, safety Naseme Colvin led Weber State with 11 tackles. Linebacker Jack Kelly had nine tackles, including two for loss with one sack. Winston Reid added eight tackles.

Weber State answered an Eastern Washington opening-drive TD (a Visperas 3-yard run) with a field-goal drive capped when Thompson put through a 44-yarder to make it 7-3 at the 4:07 mark of the first quarter.

The Eagles (3-4, 2-2 Big Sky) came back with their first 18-play touchdown drive, but it didn’t happen without a pinch of luck. Lining up for a 26-yard field goal, receiver Efton Chism corralled a low snap as the holder and, with a kick seemingly out of the question, stood up and ran for 8 yards and a first down.

Altahir scored on a 1-yard run on the next play and suddenly the home team was up 14-3.

Though it appeared like a potentially botched play, the fake was designed, per a report from The Spokesman-Review. EWU coach Aaron Best said the Eagles executed the play when Weber State “gave us a look that we anticipated,” answering for years of the Wildcats pulling fakes on the Eagles.

The Wildcats came back with their best offensive drive in several weeks and Hurry was in the middle of it all. It was sparked by Munoz hitting Hurry for 23 yards. Munoz threw to Hurry angling right to the far sideline, dropping one over his defender for a 26-yard gain on third down to the EWU 9-yard line. Hurry then took a reverse carry into the end zone but was marked down at the 1.

So Kris Jackson punched in the touchdown from there to cut the deficit to 14-10 with 6:19 left in the half.

“I love how he approached the game today,” Mental said about Hurry. “And what’s hitting yardage is the pass interferences, so he’s probably darn-near 150, 165 (yards) on impacting winning. So just got to build on that and be consistent, but I love the step he took today.”

Momentum began to build as WSU’s defense quickly forced a punt and Cormier gashed for a 22-yard run that erased an EWU sack of Munoz that briefly had the Wildcats backed up to their own 8-yard line.

Munoz and Cormier pieced the Wildcats down the field as time ran out on the half. An 8-yard Cormier rush had WSU facing a second-and-2 at the Eastern 20 but the play was negated by a personal foul on Jordan Lutui as the offensive lineman hit a seated Eagles player well behind the play. That put WSU back to the 43-yard line with 52 seconds left.

A Cormier 16-yarder picked up a third-and-15 to the EWU 17 but the penalty changed the complexion of the drive against the clock, and WSU could only cut the deficit to 14-13 when Thompson made a 40-yard field goal as time expired.

Munoz was 12 of 16 for 120 yards in the first half as WSU outgained EWU 197-184.

Despite the field goal instead of the touchdown, Weber State appeared to keep the momentum going when receiving the ball out of halftime. Munoz threw a 21-yarder to Hurry on the opening play of the third quarter but that drive was quickly halted when WSU committed consecutive false start penalties.

The Eagles’ final big drive helped them control the final yardage tally 420-369. It was the first time in three games without star running back Damon Bankston that WSU has broken the 300-yard mark.

The decision also snaps a four-game win streak for Weber State in the series, giving Eastern its first win over WSU since 2015 and a 20-18 lead in the all-time series.

Weber State has now arrived at its bye week. The Wildcats next play at Idaho State on Nov. 4; the surging Bengals are 3-1 in Big Sky play after dispatching Portland State 38-24 on the road.


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