The Weber State University football team hosted California State University, Sacramento in WSU’s annual Homecoming Game on Saturday night. Turnovers were the Wildcats’ undoing, as they fell to the Hornets 31-3.
The ball went back and forth for the first half of the first quarter, as neither team was able to do much with the football.
The Wildcats got a drive going late in the first quarter when quarterback Austin Chipoletti hit wide receiver Erik Walker over the middle for a 35-yard gain. The drive was cut short on the very next play when Chipoletti lost the handle on the ball as he attempted a rush. The Hornets recovered the ball.
The momentum shifted back toward the Wildcats early in the second quarter. Hornet quarterback Jihad Vercher floated a pass over his receiver’s head, leading to an interception by WSU cornerback Deon’tae Florence.
“We prepared well. We knew the route combinations that would come,” Florence said. “Coach put me in good position. I just sank back, and the ball came my way, and I took advantage of the opportunity.”
WSU running back Bo Bolen provided a spark for the Wildcats on the next play, taking the ball 41 yards to just outside the red zone. The Wildcats again had their drive cut short as running back Zach Smith fumbled the ball inside the 10-yard line.
“That was a key to the game,” said WSU head coach Jody Sears, who took responsibility for the loss. “However, that’s where the leadership and the mental toughness have to kick in. As coaches, we have to demand, and we have to develop that mental toughness within our football team.”
The Wildcats suffered a big blow on defense late in the second quarter as defensive captain Anthony Morales left the game with a leg injury. He did not return for the remainder of the game. Without their captain, the Wildcats began to struggle on defense.
“This is Anthony Morales’ last Homecoming Game,” Florence said. “We were all confident, and we were all ready to go and have his back. He’s our leader. When we came out, we said that we had to play for him and fight for him. If he was out there, he would have played hard and hit. Our mentality was positive.”
After a pair of punts, the Hornets got on the board first, capitalizing on a short field. The Hornets needed just six plays to drive the 43 yards to the end zone. The drive was capped off with a 15-yard pass from quarterback Garrett Safron to receiver DeAndre Carter.
The Wildcats again received the ball deep in their own territory. After three unsuccessful plays, WSU punter Tony Epperson was bombarded when he attempted a punt. Epperson was hit as he kicked the ball, and the net total of the play was negative six yards.
The Hornets scored on the next play on a 15-yard pass from Safron to Carter. The half ended with the score 14-0 in favor of CSUS.
“It was tough to see us that,” Florence said. “We fought so hard, and then a couple of mistakes put them in the position to capitalize, and they did. It’s all about going to the drawing board and fixing those mistakes.”
Turnovers were the downfall for WSU in the first half. The team had three fumbles, all recovered by CSUS. While none of the fumbles led directly to points, all three were momentum killers for the Wildcats.
The Hornets lost no momentum at halftime when they received the kickoff and drove 75 yards for another touchdown. That brought the score to 21-0.
“We knew we made mistakes, and we thought we were going to fix them right away,” Chipoletti said. “We came out, and we had it snowball-effect, and things didn’t get quite worked out like we wanted to.”
The Wildcats answered back with a score of their own on the very next drive, as WSU drove to inside the 30-yard line. WSU kicker Carson Fackrell made his first career kick, a 41-yarder, bringing the score to 21-3 in favor of the Hornets.
The Hornets added another touchdown and a field goal to end the third period with the score at 31-3. Neither team did much with the ball in the fourth quarter and neither scored.
The Wildcats will now go on a tough two-game road trip. They will face No. 2-ranked Eastern Washington University next Saturday. The game will be broadcast on AM 1430 and will be available to watch on www.bigskytv.org.