OGDEN — When Daniel Wright Jr. ripped a 68-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, it was just enough to give Weber State’s offense a 38-37 win over the defense as the Wildcats ended spring camp with their annual spring game at Stewart Stadium.
It was a fairly typical spring game Saturday afternoon: the sun hiding in spurts, a modified scoring system that gives points for smaller plays besides touchdowns, and handfuls of expected starters sitting out.
But in the end, it was still a fitting cap to a productive spring for a team expected to begin the 2019 season ranked in the top 10.
“I thought today’s game was really good. It was pretty physical,” head coach Jay Hill said. “The offense did a lot of good things, especially at the start, had a lot of good drives and the big touchdown run in the second half. Jake Constantine looked really good while he was in there. We have some weapons on offense and ability on defense right now.”
Constantine quarterbacked the first-team offense, throwing 7 of 10 for 88 yards, including a 33-yarder to sophomore Devon Cooley on the first drive.
“I thought we were very productive throughout the spring and got better as an offense. I think that will make our team better and we’ll be able to help out the defense a little more this year. I think we’re way more explosive as well,” Constantine said.
Reigning national freshman of the year Josh Davis did not play at running back, giving most of the reps to redshirt freshman Kris Jackson and junior Wright Jr. Rashid Shaheed and Cooley took several series at receiver before backups took over. Each caught two passes: Cooley for 44 yards and Shaheed for 32.
Consensus seems to be Constantine — now healthy after taking over the offense early last season directly off rehab of an ACL tear — is ready to take a big leap.
“Compared to the season I had, I definitely feel a whole lot better,” he said. “I feel like I can finally trust my leg and move on it with confidence.”
“He’s really come into his own,” Hill added. “He looks like the exact player we though he was going to be.”
Kylan Weisser took most of the other quarterback reps Saturday and Teryn Berry came in late for some snaps. Both are redshirt freshmen.
Sophomore quarterback Kaden Jenks was dressed but did not participate. He’s been active in practices but is still rehabbing his gnarly foot injury from last season.
Wright Jr.’s big run was the only touchdown for the offense. He and junior Kevin Smith, who missed all of last season with a leg injury, are expected to join Davis to give a drastic boost to the running back group.
“(Wright Jr.) looked like he was moving pretty dang fast, that was the first time I’ve seen him at top speed so that was impressive and exciting to watch,” Constantine said.
The offense led 29-11 at halftime (quarters were 10 minutes of running clock) before the defense came storming back beginning with several sacks (two points). Junior safety Preston Smith returned a fumble 54 yards for a touchdown (six points for the TD, four for the turnover, one for the extra point) in the third quarter to cut the offense’s lead to 29-28.
The second- and third-team defenses got a few more sacks or plays for loss to take the lead against the second- and third-team offenses before Wright Jr.’s long score flipped the result.
Weisser threw 10 of 19 for 96 yards, including a 30-yarder to AJ Allen. David Ames caught four balls for 32 yards. McKade Mitton, Jared Schiess, Connor Mortenson, George Tarlas and Jordan Strate all recorded sacks.
Trey Tuttle made field goals of 40 and 33 yards, and just missed from 56. Backup kicker Riley Erickson made from 48 and 32.
Several other expected starters also sat, including tight end Justin Malone, linebacker Auston Tesch, and defensive ends Jonah Williams and Adam Rodriguez.
Now it’s up to players and strength coach Derek Rosinksi to keep the momentum through the summer until fall camp opens Aug. 1 ahead of the Aug. 31 opener at San Diego State.
“To go back-to-back-to-back (as conference champions), we have to have a great summer and in the weight room is where it starts,” Constantine said. “Everybody’s got to be dedicated this summer to perfecting their craft. We’ve got to come out in fall camp and be ready to grind.”
Hill said he sees many of the same components in this team as the last two squads that reached the FCS quarterfinals.
“It’s going to take leadership ... we’re not there yet, we’re going to need a really good fall camp,” Hill said. “As far as the pieces to the puzzle, we have them, we just need to get them to all fit right.
“This team has a lot of experience coming back. We’ve got leaders. We’ve got the pieces to be good, now we just have to do it.”
The only feeling around Stewart Stadium is that of high expectations.
“This is a confident team, they expect to be good again,” Hill said. “Coaches expect them to be good, fans should expect us to be good. But it’s football, that’s why we all love it because you have to go out and do it.”
Sophomore quarterback Braden Miles and junior quarterback/receiver Justin Shaw have left the program. Senior safety Trey Hoskins did not participate in spring camp but is expected to rejoin the team in the fall.
Jacques Carter, a Clearfield High alum and former College of Idaho defensive back, has joined the team and will be a senior. Sophomore receiver Ty MacPherson (Lone Peak HS) returned from missionary service and saw snaps in Saturday’s scrimmage.
Senior Gordon Moimoi and redshirt freshman Chinonso Opara both moved from defensive line to offensive line. David Jones, who carried the ball as a running back in 2017, moved to defensive back last season and made plenty of plays on special teams. He’s again back as a cornerback. Hayden Meacham, a redshirt freshman from Layton High, moved from defensive end to tight end.
Several expected rotational players have changed uniform numbers, including Cooley (85 to 3), Davis (28 to 20), cornerback Marque Collins (13 to 2) and linebacker Noah Vaea (36 to 13). Boise State transfer Desmond Williams, a junior safety, claimed No. 14.