Southern Utah defensive back Josh Smith gets in front of Weber State wide receiver Braden Corpus (15) to make the interception. Smith's interception came with four seconds left in the game, sealing the 31-28 win for the Thunderbirds.  (Photo by Tony Post)
Southern Utah defensive back Josh Smith gets in front of Weber State wide receiver Braden Corpus (15) to make the interception. Smith’s interception came with four seconds left in the game, sealing the 31-28 win for the Thunderbirds.
(Photo by Tony Post)

In their most heartbreaking loss of the season yet, the Weber State football team came within one play of winning or tying the game as the Southern Utah Thunderbirds won 31-28.

With 14 seconds remaining in the game, the Wildcats faced third down and 10 yards to go on the Thunderbirds’ 25-yard line. Needing at least a field goal to tie the game and potentially force overtime, the Wildcats ran one last play in an attempt to get a better field position. Sophomore quarterback Billy Green threw a pass down the right sideline to sophomore wide receiver Braden Corpus, only to see Southern Utah junior defensive back Josh Smith leap in front of Corpus and make the interception with four seconds left in the game.

“I just saw one-on-one outside with Braden on (Smith) and we thought we had a good matchup,” Green said. “And (Smith) just made a good play on the ball.”

WSU head coach Jay Hill said that while it would be easy afterwards to criticize the decision to try and throw the ball in the situation the team was in, he stands by the choice.

“We’re trying to make a play. We’re trying to get us a little closer for a field goal,” Hill said. “I don’t second guess that call.”

After the game, Hill talked about how big an impact turnovers have had on the team over their last few games.

“This game came down to one thing: We turned it over four times and they didn’t turn it over at all,” Hill said. “That’s been our Achilles’ heel the last three games. To (have four turnovers and not make any) and still have a shot at the end to kick a field goal and tie it, that tells you really the potential of this team and what we can be, but we have to get that deficiency fixed.”

The Wildcats have turned the ball over 11 times on seven fumbles and four interceptions over their last four games. During that span, the Wildcats defense has only recorded two interceptions.

“It sucks because we were in it all game, trading the lead back and forth,” Green said. “We feel if we would have cleaned up some things, turnovers, we should have won this game. We beat ourselves with turnovers.”

In the postgame press conference, Southern Utah head coach Ed Lamb talked about his team’s success with forcing Weber State to turn over the ball.

“When you talk about turnover battle it’s a full-team effort, including the special teams, which is where we got one of them,” Lamb said. “I credit the defense for being in position and having good obstruction habits.”

Weber State’s problems began early in the game, as they were shutout in the first quarter for the fourth time this year. Opponents have now outscored the Wildcats 61-7 in the first quarter through the first five weeks of the season.

“We have to find ways to make plays in the first half. We’ve got drives stalling, the defense is taking too long to get in the groove of the game and once we do we play pretty good defensively,” Hill said. “Bottom line, we’ve got to find ways out of those first drives, and we’ve got to find ways to sustain those drives.”

The defense had several solid performances throughout the game, including holding Southern Utah to only 31 yards in the second quarter. Freshman linebacker Emmett Tela led the defense once again, as he recorded double-digit tackles for the third time this season. Tela finished the night with 16 total tackles, including 12 solo tackles and three sacks. He is the first Wildcat with 12 or more solo tackles in a game since 2011, when Nick Webb recorded 12 at Portland State. Tela’s three sacks were the most by a Wildcat since 2011, when Trevor Pletcher made four sacks against Idaho State.

“I know I had a good game, but I also know that I messed up a lot too,” Tela said. “Defensively we knew we had to come out without a ton of penalties as we’ve had in our previous games. We’ve just got to get our assignments down. Just fix our mistakes and get better every day.”

After dropping their first Big Sky Conference game of the season, the Wildcats (0-5, 0-1 conference) now have a bye week before they host the Cal Poly Mustangs (1-3, 0-1 conference) on Homecoming night. Looking forward over the next two weeks, Hill said that the team needs to work hard during the bye week in preparation for the Homecoming match.

“We need to come back with some resolve. We need some young guys to step up. We had a ton of guys go down today. Had another o-line injury (junior right guard Tui Crichton),” Hill said. “But the bottom line is no one cares. Fans don’t care. Other opponents don’t care, in fact they’re happy this stuff is happening. We gotta battle through it.”

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