Two late touchdown drives were not enough to lift the Weber State University football team over the deficit in its game against Southern Utah University on Saturday. The Wildcats fell 27-21 to the Thunderbirds.
The story of the game for the Wildcats was turnovers. The Wildcats outgained SUU by nearly 100 yards, but they were charged with 11 penalties for 124 yards.
“I was extremely disappointed with the penalties,” said WSU head coach Jody Sears. “Five personal fouls. I love their heart, I love their passion. I love where their energy is. I absolutely love it. But we have to be smart.”
The Wildcats got a spark on the opening kickoff as returner A.J. Coney brought the ball to the 45-yard line. The offense was moving well to begin the game, but the drive stalled across midfield. The Wildcats attempted a 50-yard field goal, but it was blocked.
After the blocked field goal and a punt from the Thunderbirds, the Wildcats were the first on the board. Taking over at the 14-yard line, WSU drove the ball the rest of the way. The 13-play, 86-yard drive culminated in a 31-yard touchdown throw from quarterback Austin Chipoletti to wide receiver Cameron Livingston. That gave the Wildcats an early 7-0 lead.
The Wildcat defense also began the game with intensity, holding the Thunderbirds to three straight three-and-outs.
After a pair of punts, SUU had the ball near its own goal line in the second quarter. The Wildcats dialed up the pressure on freshman quarterback Mike Sharp, who threw the ball out in a hurry. WSU cornerback Deon’tae Florence intercepted the ball, giving the Wildcats a short field.
“I just saw the ball in the air,” said Florence, who dropped an earlier interception opportunity. “I let my team down on the first one, so I just tried to lock it in.”
The Wildcats took an unsportsmanlike penalty on the play and were unable to do anything with the ball, missing another long field goal.
“We had some bad penalties, personal fouls, including myself, that killed us early and throughout the game,” said WSU senior Anthony Morales. “We just let them score right before half and gave them the momentum going into halftime. We didn’t do a good job of stopping it.”
The Thunderbird offense finally put a drive together midway through the second quarter. After another personal foul penalty by the Wildcats, SUU drove the ball into the red zone. The Wildcat defense rose to the occasion, holding the Thunderbirds to a field goal attempt that went wide left.
The Wildcats had a botched punt that traveled only 23 yards, giving SUU a short field. The Thunderbirds drove the ball inside the 5-yard line. After one goal line stand, Thunderbird running back Levi Te’o punched the ball into the end zone, tying the game at 7-7 headed into halftime.
The Wildcats continued the mental lapses to start the third quarter. Chipoletti was picked off near the Wildcat 30-yard line. The Thunderbirds again took advantage of the error and took the ball all the way into the end zone. Sharp took a quarterback sneak into the end zone on third-and-goal at the 1-yard line. That gave the Thunderbirds a 14-7 lead.
The Wildcats got a drive going in response, but after a reception from receiver Shaydon Kehano, SUU stripped out and recovered the ball at its own 29-yard line.
The Thunderbirds’ offense could not be stopped again, even with the backup quarterback coming into the game for an injured Sharp. SUU went nearly the length of the field. WSU’s defense clamped down at the goal line and SUU was held to a field goal, ending the third quarter with a score of 17-7.
The Wildcats continued to struggle in the fourth quarter as SUU once again drove into the red zone with ease. The drive ended with a 12-yard touchdown from quarterback Aaron Cantu to receiver Griff McNabb.
The Wildcats had a late drive, scoring a quick touchdown with a six-play, 75-yard drive that took a little more than one minute off of the clock. Chipoletti found receiver Gamal Fowler on a 22-yard jump-ball touchdown. That brought the score to 24-14.
The Wildcats were unable to recover the onside kick, but the defense got a three-and-out to give the offense a chance. The offense wasn’t able to move the ball, giving up three sacks, and SUU stopped the Wildcats on fourth down. The Thunderbirds added a field goal, giving them a 27-14 lead.
The Wildcats once again put together a quick touchdown drive. Chipoletti found Livingston again for a 7-yard touchdown with three seconds left. SUU recovered the onside kick, ending the game. The final score was 27-21.
The Wildcats will next travel to Missoula, Mont., to face the University of Montana on Saturday. The game will begin at 12 p.m.