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Weber State football: Wildcats battle, Utah controls game in 31-7 decision

By Brett Hein - Standard-Examiner | Sep 16, 2023
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Utah's Ja'Quinden Jackson (3) tries to break the tackle of Weber State's Winston Reid on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023, in Salt Lake City.
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Weber State's Damon Bankston (1) runs the football as quarterback Kylan Weisser (11) follows the play Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023, in Salt Lake City.
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Weber State's Cameren Cope (48) steps over Utah quarterback Nate Johnson (13) after sacking him Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023, in Salt Lake City.
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Weber State's Kris Jackson, center, runs the football against Utah on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023, in Salt Lake City.
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Weber State's Jalon Rock (23) dives to break up a pass to Utah's Money Parks on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023, in Salt Lake City.
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Weber State's Abraham Williams (4) returns a kickoff against Utah on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023, in Salt Lake City.
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Weber State's Winston Reid hits Utah quarterback Nate Johnson on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023, in Salt Lake City.
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Utah quarterback Nate Johnson runs the football as Brayden Wilson (94) and Winston Reid (6) pursue on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023, in Salt Lake City.
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Weber State's LJ Anderson (32) arrives to tackle Utah receiver Mikey Matthews on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023, in Salt Lake City.
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Utah receiver Mikey Matthews, right, tries to break the tackle of Weber State's LJ Anderson on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023, in Salt Lake City.
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Weber State's Cameren Cope, left, rushes against Utah on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023, in Salt Lake City.
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Weber State's Cameren Cope celebrates a sack against Utah on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023, in Salt Lake City.
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Weber State's Damon Bankston carries the football against Utah on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023, in Salt Lake City.
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Weber State's Jayleen Record, right, runs the ball against Utah's Zemaiah Vaughn on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023, in Salt Lake City.
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Weber State quarterback Kylan Weisser (11) throws against Utah on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023, in Salt Lake City.
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Weber State lineman Noah Atagi (79) celebrates after WSU scored a touchdown against Utah on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023, in Salt Lake City.

SALT LAKE CITY — Despite the massive recruiting and financial advantages in Salt Lake City, each of Weber State football’s last three trips to play the University of Utah have provided moments that left the faithful at Rice-Eccles Stadium wondering how long it would take the Utes to put away its FCS in-state visitor.

Saturday’s came in the second quarter when a WSU stop, touchdown and near-interception combo could have turned the game on its head for longer, but the final part of that sequence was only a what-if.

Thanks to a strong defense, the FBS No. 12 Utes survived the brief scare and put away the FCS No. 9 Wildcats 31-7 on a sunny Saturday afternoon to wrap up nonconference play for each team.

“Credit goes to Utah. They played extremely well today,” WSU head coach Mickey Mental said. “Love that our kids competed throughout the game, hung in there and didn’t break at the end. Very proud of our guys and looking forward to taking that next step next week.”

The Utes held Weber State to 127 yards, with running back Damon Bankston netting 59 of them on eight carries. Utah has allowed 31 total points in its three games.

“You’ve got to be mindful of who we’re going against. I mean, they haven’t given up more than 13 points all season,” Mental said. “That’s a credit to their defense and their defensive staff but still, we’ve got to be better. There’s a standard here … and we’ve got to live up to that standard and do a better job.”

Leading 7-0, Utah resumed a long drive to open the second quarter but was stopped in the red zone thanks to a Brayden Wilson tackle for loss; the defensive end wrapped up running back Jaylon Glover at the Weber 19. Joey Cheek put through a 37-yard field goal to put the home team up 10-0.

Utah was determined to let Weber State’s elite kick-return unit have its chances, so Abraham Williams returned the ensuing kickoff out of the end zone to WSU’s 41.

Kylan Weisser hit Treyshun Hurry for a 10-yarder that helped erase the damage from a false start penalty. On third-and-4, Weber State’s offensive line blocked an inside counter to perfection, Bankston cut through the crease and raced 47 yards to the Utah 6.

Kris Jackson took it the rest of the way on two carries, punching in a 2-yarder to make it a 10-7 game with 10:46 left in the half.

The next possession was the backbreaker. Weber State did well to force quarterback Nate Johnson to move Utah’s offense with his legs and, on a second-and-16 from Utah’s 35, Johnson misfired a throw out of a five-wide formation. His ball over the middle was to nobody but WSU cornerback Jalon Rock. Rock dove for the ball and was a split-second from securing it for an interception at midfield, but it found the turf.

On the next play, a third-and-16, Johnson got the ball to speedy slot receiver Mikey Matthews on an underneath route. Well-blocked downfield, Matthews turned it into a 40-yard gain. Three plays later, Money Parks danced 13 yards to the end zone on a screen pass to get Utah a 17-7 lead with 5:00 remaining.

All three of Utah’s first-half scoring drives were of the same flavor, each taking nine or 10 plays and lasting in the vicinity of five minutes.

For the third straight possession, Weber State started across its own 40 after Utah kicked away from Williams only for Haze Hadley to scoop up a roller and return it 33 yards to the WSU 49. But Weisser took pressure and was hit hard on first- and second-down passes, then just missed Hurry on a deep out across the field that would have had Weber inside the Utah 40.

“I just wish we would have capitalized off that more when we start with great position like that,” Bankston said. “We have to convert — at least get two first downs and get some points out of that.”

WSU punted to the Utah 4 and, even though the Utes drove and botched a field goal hold to end the half, they had survived Weber State’s punches and outgained the Wildcats 274-100 in the half.

Despite playing without cornerback Marque Collins (leg injury) and without starting safety Naseme Colvin for three quarters (targeting ejection), WSU’s defense battled admirably. Utah gained 380 yards before backups took the field and its offense scored 24 points.

Utah’s 31 points are its second-fewest scored in seven all-time games against Weber State, just better than a 30-7 win in 1978.

“I love how they flew around and tackled,” Mental said. “Obviously, that quarterback’s elusive.”

Linebacker Winston Reid had a tougher time seeing the positives immediately after, despite leading Weber State (2-1) with 12 tackles, including one for loss.

“Rushing for 230 yards … they had 424 yards, that’s just too much,” Reid said. “It’s a lot. Our goal is to keep them under 330 total and obviously we didn’t accomplish that.”

Weisser finished 11 of 23 for 66 yards, his longest completions going 12 and 10 yards to Hurry — thus, Hurry led WSU’s receiving with 22 yards. Jacob Sharp and Jayleen Record each had two catches for 17 yards.

Defensive end Cameren Cope shared a sack with Garrett Beck and had another sack despite being held; WSU accepted that holding penalty, thus wiping out that sack from official stats.

For Utah (3-0), Johnson threw 13 of 21 for 193 yards and rushed for 71 yards on 13 carries. Ja’Quinden Jackson picked up 69 yards on nine carries. Munir McClain caught three passes for 92 yards.

Utah opened the second half with yet another drive of nine or 10 plays and more than 4 minutes. Glover grabbed a 21-yard chunk on a rush to reach the red zone and finished the drive with a 2-yard touchdown run, putting the game away at 24-7 with 10:17 left in the third quarter.

WSU safety Kao Hansen read a third-down pass and had a likely pick-six near Utah’s 25 midway through the third quarter but the ball slipped through his hands.

Three plays later, it was Utah linebacker Lander Barton giving the Utes 20 consecutive seasons with an interception returned for a touchdown. He read an out to the short side of the field and picked it out of the air, easily dashing 23 yards for six points and a 31-7 Utah lead with 4:36 left in the third quarter.

Weber State got the game’s first possession and went three-and-out. Utah’s first possession was a touchdown drive, keyed by a 33-yard pass to McClain and finished when Johnson ran in a fourth-and-goal from the 1 at the 8:35 mark of the first quarter.

Both teams next open conference play at home against teams who entered this week’s games ranked.

Utah opens its final Pac-12 season at home, hosting No. 24 UCLA at 1:30 p.m.

Weber State welcomes No. 3 Montana State to Stewart Stadium for a 6 p.m. kickoff. MSU went unchallenged in a blowout win over Stetson on Saturday.

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