After three quarters, it looked like a Cinderella story in the making, but with a few late mistakes, the Weber State University football team lost 34-16 to No. 5-ranked Montana State University on Saturday afternoon.
The Wildcats had multiple chances to keep up and even overtake the Bobcats, but they committed three turnovers in enemy territory, which led to 20 points for MSU.
“There was a lot of growth today,” said WSU head coach Jody Sears. “I told (the team) after the game that there are no moral victories, we got to keep pressing on. We had a lot of good things; there are a lot of good things that we can gain confidence from.”
In a familiar sight, the Wildcats offered little resistance on the opening drive, letting MSU march right down the field on a 75-yard touchdown drive. A 35-yard touchdown from senior quarterback DeNarius McGhee to wide receiver Jon Ellis capped off the drive. The extra point was blocked, giving the Bobcats a 6-0 lead.
The Wildcats put together a drive of their own on the subsequent drive. Sparked by a 42-yard run by junior Bo Bolen, the Wildcats drove the ball inside the 20-yard line. The Wildcat drive was halted by two straight sacks, driving the ball back to the 33-yard line.
But WSU senior placekicker Shaun McClain had the leg, making a career-long 50-yard field goal on his first field goal attempt of the season. That made the score 6-3.
After holding MSU on two consecutive drives to punts, the Wildcats were again on the move, driving the ball into Bobcat territory. Bolen and running back Josh Booker continued to break tackles and drive the ball forward, picking up multiple first downs.
Bolen was the workhorse on the drive, gaining 44 yards on the drive, including a 19-yard touchdown with 20 seconds left in the first quarter. The extra point gave the Wildcats their first lead since their opening game against Stephen F. Austin State University. The Wildcats finished the first quarter with a 10-6 lead.
“It helps a lot, being able to run the ball,” said WSU quarterback Austin Chipoletti. “Our O-line played a great game up front. They did a great job.”
After giving up a touchdown to start the second quarter, the Wildcats got a spark on the kickoff, with A.J. Coney taking the ball to the 44-yard line. The Wildcats continued their ground attack, but Bolen lost an exchange of the football. MSU recovered the fumble at its own 39-yard line.
The Bobcats capitalized on the turnover, going the distance for another touchdown, this one a 35-yard touchdown pass from McGhee to wideout Brian Flotkoetter. That brought the score to 19-10.
The Wildcats received the second-half kickoff and again had a 40-yard return. The Wildcats continued to break big plays in their running game, driving quickly into the red zone. The Bobcats’ defense held firm, causing the Wildcats to turn over the ball on downs at the 2-yard line.
Neither team was able to gain much ground for the next 10 minutes, until the Wildcats had two consecutive long passing plays from Chipoletti, a 41-yard pass to receiver Erik Walker and a 42-yard pass to receiver Cameron Livingston. Chipoletti drove it in with a 1-yard touchdown run, bringing the score to 21-16.
Chipoletti caught fire in the second half, completing 18-21 passes over 240 yards before a last-chance drive caused three incompletions.
“My O-line definitely played a heck of a game,” Chipoletti said. “They are the reason why we were in this game. They played a great game, and I couldn’t tell them enough how proud I was of them up front and the time they gave me to throw the ball.”
The Wildcats turned over the ball twice in the fourth quarter, on a fumble in the red zone and an interception. Both were converted for touchdowns, icing that game at 34-16.
The Wildcats showed vast improvement on offense and defense, reminiscent of their first game of the season.
“The difference was both sides of the ball executing,” said linebacker Anthony Morales, who returned after sitting out for two weeks with an injury. “Last week, we weren’t getting three and outs. The offense wasn’t on the field. Today, we gave offense the opportunities to get on the field, and they converted a lot better this game.”
The Wildcats now will have a bye week before traveling to Oregon to face Portland State University on Nov. 2.