OGDEN — When Trey Tuttle missed a 36-yard field goal late in the second quarter, it was about the only mistake Weber State made in the first half.
Kaden Jenks threw a 73-yard touchdown pass to Rashid Shaheed on WSU’s first offensive play, the No. 5 Wildcats forced two early turnovers, led 27-10 at halftime and cruised to a convincing 29-17 win over No. 9 Northern Iowa on Saturday night at Stewart Stadium.
“That’s a legit team we just beat, so I’m happy for our guys,” WSU head coach Jay Hill said, adding, “we’ve got some stuff to clean up.”
The Wildcats (2-2) got going early. Naseme Colvin rocked UNI kick returner Deion McShane to open the game. After a pair of first downs, Adam Rodriguez recorded a tackle for loss on first down and sacked Panthers quarterback Will McElvain on third down.
After the ensuing punt, Jenks had plenty of time to throw, throwing deep downfield to Shaheed behind the defense. Despite slowing down a touch to catch the ball, Shaheed sped off, outran defenders that were closing in and cruised to the end zone.
“We knew from film study and the coaches put together a great plan, and we knew coming out we were going to get that,” Jenks said. “We were able to go out and execute, Rashid ran a great route, I just had to throw the ball to him.”
Aaron Sessions rocketed through UNI’s kick coverage on the ensuing kickoff, undercutting McShane and forcing a fumble, recovered by John Abercrombie. A 15-yard field produced a 25-yard field goal for Tuttle, putting Weber State ahead 10-0 just five minutes into the game.
The hits kept coming. On a third down a short time later, WSU safety Preston Smith came across the middle to deflect a pass into the air near midfield, where fellow safety Brody Burke corralled it for an interception and set up the offense with a 38-yard field.
Burke said that sequence fired up the team and the crowd.
“Big plays like that, especially when we’re at home and we’re against big teams, big plays are important and we feed off the sideline for sure,” Burke said.
That set up what became a methodical passing offense for Weber State, chipping away at Northern Iowa (2-2) with quick slants, swing passes to running backs, screens, and crosses to tight ends.
Jenks completed passes to Justin Malone and Kevin Smith, and Shaheed rushed 15 yards on a sweep, setting up Kris Jackson for a 2-yard scoring rush. That put Weber up 17-0 with 5:43 left in the opening quarter.
The teams traded field goals and Weber State led 20-3 after one quarter.
The WSU defense held UNI to a three-and-out and Jenks got back to work in the passing game. He threw to David Ames on an out and then a slant, and connected with Devon Cooley on a 20-yard deep slant.
That set up third-and-7 from the UNI 13, where Jenks threw to a rolling Malone across the middle, who broke a low tackle attempt and rambled in for a touchdown.
The 12-play, 67-yard drive took 6:19 off the clock and put Weber State up 27-3 with 8:30 left in the first half.
Northern Iowa found the end zone with 1:35 left in the half when McElvain lofted a ball to Isaiah Weston near the goal line. Weston rose up and won a battle with Dave Jones, who contested the ball well, for a 37-yard TD pass, making it 27-10 at halftime.
“I thought that was as good a first half as we’ve played against a big-time opponent,” Hill said. “The offense was outstanding: 42 plays, 284 yards in the first half. They looked like I thought they would look.”
After the first-half offense — Jenks was 18 of 23 for 219 yards and two touchdowns — Weber State got fairly conservative and ran into a stout UNI rush defense, eventually gaining just 1 yard in the second half after two kneel-downs lost 4 yards to end the game.
“In that situation, especially when it starts sprinkling and raining ... you’re up 19 points, don’t do something stupid on a team like that,” Hill said of WSU’s conservative second-half offense, which threw six passes after halftime. “I’m not a conservative guy but I’m not going to do something dumb to lose the game in those situations — turn it over three or four times in the second half because you’re trying to throttle a team by 42 points, that’s not the way you should do it.
“Having said that, we’ve got to clean some stuff up, we’ve got to play a little bit better than we did in the second half.”
Meanwhile, punter Doug Lloyd took over as star. He and the kick coverage team downed three punts at the Northern Iowa 2 in the second half, one of them coming after Lloyd juked a UNI player who had a sure beat on a blocked kick, then rolled the punt down the field for 72 yards.
One of the punts downed at the 2 resulted in WSU’s only second-half points when a second-down shotgun snap flew over McElvain’s head and out of the end zone for a safety to make it 29-10 with 3:08 left in the third quarter.
Smith finished with 25 rushing yards and Davis had 19. Jenks threw to six receivers, with Cooley totaling 45 yards to help a balanced distribution after Shaheed’s long touchdown haul.
Rodriguez, Auston Tesch and Conner Mortensen each finished with two tackles for loss, with Smith leading in total tackles with 10.
Weber State now prepares for Big Sky Conference play, opening the slate at Idaho on Oct. 5.
After his long pass play and a 15-yard rush, Shaheed left the game in the first quarter with a hip pointer. Hill said that affected WSU’s game plan a bit, but he expects Shaheed to be ready to play next week.
Junior quarterback Jake Constantine missed his second straight game with a knee injury that required a scope. Constantine took the usual warm-up reps before the game and appeared somewhat mobile, then spent the game mingling with teammates and riding a stationary bicycle.
WHAT BAD WEATHER?
While thunderstorms delayed the start of Utah State’s game in Logan, and threatened Utah’s late home game, the forecasted bad weather largely avoided Stewart Stadium, at least in a way that could cause prolonged delays. The game began under brief sunny skies and substantial rain held off until during the third quarter.