The Weber State football team became the latest victim of North Dakota State’s record winning streak, as they dropped their home opener 24-7 against the Bisons.
“That was a good football team that we beat. They did a great job at the line of scrimmage and gave us some fits with running the football and blitzing,” said North Dakota State head coach Chris Klieman. “They have a good front four and linebackers. I was really impressed with their football team.”
In front of a crowd of 14,577, the highest attendance for a football game since 2005, the Wildcats were able to put together big plays, but were unable to capitalize on all of their chances.
On the very first play of the game, sophomore quarterback Billy Green threw a 49-yard pass to sophomore wide receiver Cameron Livingston, who was able to make the catch despite facing double coverage from the North Dakota State defense. Despite the big start, the Wildcats were unable to score on the drive, as sophomore running back Zach Smith was stopped for no gain on third down and fourth down, forcing Weber State to turnover the ball on downs.
Later in the first quarter, the Wildcats scored their only points of the game, as freshman running back Eric Wilkes came in to replace an injured Smith and broke through the Bisons’ defense to score on a 27-yard run to tie the game 7-7. The touchdown was the first of Wilkes’ career and also his longest career run.
Coming out of halftime, the Wildcats missed an early opportunity to score, as a 48-yard field goal attempt by sophomore kicker Carson Fackrell was blocked by North Dakota State. Now trailing 21-7 to start the fourth quarter, Weber State opened the quarter on the North Dakota State five-yard line, moving up to the two-yard line after a defensive pass interference call was made against the Bisons. Wilkes was stopped on three straight rushes, and a fake field goal attempt nearly got Weber State the touchdown, but junior kicker Josh Kealamakia was unable to shake the last defender and was tackled just short of the endzone.
“I thought they executed it really well, but Carlton (Littlejohn) got off his block and made a great open field tackle,” Klieman said. “It was a critical play in the game because if it was 21-14, the crowd would have gotten back into it.”
The failed fake-field goal would be the last time the Wildcats would come close to scoring, as North Dakota State once again came away victorious by the score of 24-7.
“Two weeks in a row we got stopped at the goal line,” Green said. “That can’t happen.”
Weber State head coach Jay Hill talked about the stop, saying that they had been working on that play in practice and it was frustrating to see it fail in the game.
“The dilemma we still have is we’re making mistakes that you can’t make against great teams,” Hill said. “You can’t make the mistakes we’re making. We run a fake field goal right there in the end and it’s wide open, it’s exactly the way we practiced it, but we missed a block and we get tackled and it should have been a walk in. Those are the mistakes that are still costing us. When things are there we’re not taking advantage of it.”
Green finished the night completing 26 of 43 pass attempts for 240 yards. It was the first time a Weber State quarterback passed for at least 240 yards since Austin Chipoletti threw for 263 yards against Southern Utah on Nov. 3 last season. Senior wide receiver Shaydon Kehano led the team with nine receptions for 88 yards.
“Gotta give all the credit to North Dakota State, they’re a great program,” Kehano said. “We had our shots there, we had our chances at the goalline and we didn’t come out successful, and we just got to work on that and get better.”
Kehano was 20th all time in career receiving yards going into the game, but his 88 yards receiving moved him to 17th all time (1,455 yards), passing former Wildcats Dave MacGillivray, Cam Quayle, and Bryant Eteuati.
“(Kehano) is a heck of a football player and we had our hands full with him,” Klieman said. “He made some plays that kept things alive, but we played better red zone defense this week than we did at Iowa State.”
Kehano was not the only Wildcat moving up career leaderboards, as senior running back Bo Bolen rushed for 25 yards on five attempts, moving him from 12th to 11th in career rushing yards (1,720), passing former Wildcat Sean Sanders (1,705 yards).
Despite allowing the Bisons to score 24 points, the Weber State defense put together a good performance with some flashy plays, like sophomore safety Josh Burton’s first career interception, coming on the first play of the second quarter. North Dakota State’s next drive also ended in an interception, as senior cornerback Deon’tae Florence made the catch at the Weber State five-yard line. Florence’s interception proved to only slow the Bisons momentarily, as three plays later Green was sacked and lost control of the ball, allowing Bisons senior linebacker Carlton Littlejohn to recover the fumble for a touchdown.
Junior linebacker Luke King led the Wildcats with a game-high 11.5 total tackles, including six solo tackles. It was King’s second straight game with five or more solo tackles.
“I will say this about our defense, I thought they kicked butt tonight on third downs. They gave us opportunities to stay in the game over and over again,” Hill said. “Bottom line, there’s a lot of positives. We can build on them. We can’t get used to losing, that’s a big deal with me and the players.”
The Wildcats will be on the road for their next three games, beginning this Saturday as they take on the Sacramento State Hornets led by former Weber State head coach Jody Sears. Their next home game will be Homecoming, when they host the Cal Poly Mustangs on Oct. 11.