On a day filled with swirling winds, the Weber State University football team looked to end its season the way it started: with a win. Taking advantage of the elements, the Wildcats blew out the Idaho State University Bengals 32-7 on Saturday.
“It was awesome,” said senior running back Josh Booker, who rushed for 139 yards. “It is special to have a career high in my last game. I’m trying not to dwell on it. I’m glad it was my last game at Weber and it ended like this. My goal now is to create more memories. It was meaningful to finish my time at Weber like this.”
Sparked by their running game, including a 39-yard run from junior Bo Bolen, the Wildcats drove all the way down the field on their opening possession, finishing with a 9-yard touchdown run from Booker.
After trading punts, the Bengals got a touchdown of their own. Facing a fourth and 10, ISU went for it and got the first down. Two plays later, running back Xavier Finney punched the ball in from three yards out to tie the game at 7-7.
On the next drive, the Wildcats were stopped at the 13-yard line on third down, so senior punter Tony Epperson took the ball and had a wind-aided 86-yard punt, a school record. Epperson had two punts of more than 83 yards on the day.
“That’s pretty cool,” said Epperson of the record. “It flew on me today. That wind was taking them. It’s either a dream or a nightmare, depending on which way you are kicking. The ball is going everywhere when you drop it. But I hit some good ones today with it.”
On the ensuing drive for ISU, quarterback Justin Arias threw the ball and it was intercepted off of a deflection by safety D.J. Bush. The ball was returned 26 yards for a touchdown. The extra-point snap was high due to the wind. WSU led 13-7.
The wind was a hazard during the game, causing the ball to fly in unintended directions. ISU had the ball on its own 22-yard line when a lateral pass flew backward. The ball was considered a fumble and flew out of bounds at the 4-yard line. On the next play, the Wildcat defense again came up big. On a rush, the ball was poked out by defensive end Dustin Martin and recovered by WSU linebacker Luke King.
The Wildcats wasted no time, scoring on a 4-yard run from Bolen on the first play. That gave the Wildcats a 20-7 lead, ending the quarter.
Field position favored the Wildcats in the first half. The Bengals averaged just 21 yards on three punts, including a 5-yard punt. They also had a fake punt attempt that failed. The wind also knocked the Bengals out of their pass offense, where they were ranked in the top 10 in the nation.
“They’ve been running it a little bit more than they have in the past couple of years,” said WSU head coach Jody Sears, “but (the wind) handcuffed them a little bit. But defensively, our guys have been playing well against the run. It obviously played in our favor.”
The game turned into a running game in the second quarter, and that continued throughout the rest of the game. Neither team did much with the ball in the third quarter, keeping the score at 20-7.
“With the wind being ridiculous, we knew that our pass game wasn’t going to be as effective,” Booker said. “Coach told us at halftime that the game was going to be on our offensive linemen’s shoulders and on the running backs. Me and Bo kept plugging away, and then big plays happened as they went.”
WSU caught a break on its opening drive of the fourth quarter as the wind died down. The Wildcats took advantage, getting their first completion of the half, a 17-yard touchdown pass from Austin Chipoletti to wide receiver Erik Walker. Chipoletti threw just 4-10 for 34 yards. The extra point hit off of the upright.
The Bengals had a chance to throw the ball on their next drive, but with multiple drops, ISU could not move the ball well. WSU continued to pound the ball and milked the rest of the clock. One of those runs was a 61-yarder from Booker. Booker finished the job two plays later with a 2-yard run, giving the Wildcats a 32-7 lead.
After another failed fourth-down conversion by the Bengals, WSU ended the game in victory formation.
The future of the football program is uncertain. Sears is under contract for the next two seasons, but there are certain criteria stipulations in his contract that he did not meet. It is yet to be seen if he and his staff will continue to lead the organization into the next season.