The Weber State University Wildcats, who are ranked eighth in the STATS FCS poll, kicked off their season in Salt Lake City on Thursday night against the University of Utah Utes. The Wildcats had a strong first half before falling 41–10, dropping down to 0–5 all-time against the Utes.
“No need to freak out now, first game of the year,” senior fullback Brady May said.
The in-state matchup brought 45,948 people into the stands at Rice-Eccles Stadium, over 10,000 people larger than last season’s Pac-12 matchup. There was a solitary section of purple for the Wildcats, but the stadium as a whole was a sea of Ute fans head-to-toe in red, packed in to see if WSU was ready to give them a game.
Last season, Weber State won a school record 11 games and won the Big Sky title, achieving their highest ranking in school history. It was one of the best years in the program’s 56 year history—with room to grow in year 57.
The Wildcats opened their 2018-19 campaign with the ball, but WSU and the Utes battled for the first 10 minutes defensively without a score. Utah coughed up a punt return late in the first quarter that was recovered by junior long snapper Kallin Fisher. The ’Cats were able to recover in Utah territory, leading to a 42-yard field goal by sophomore kicker Trey Tuttle.
After the ensuing kickoff, the Utes offense came out and on the first play and threw an interception to senior LB Landon Stice who returned it 30 yards to the 2-yard line. The interception came after several defensive stops by the Wildcats.
Stice said, “We were stopping their run pretty good and had tackles for a loss and made them throw it.”
Redshirt freshman quarterback Kaden Jenks, who was playing in his first career game, then waltzed into the endzone which resulted in the WSU team throwing up W’s with their hands to the Utah fans. Weber State football head coach Jay Hill thought his team came into the game prepared from the opening kickoff.
Hill said, “Fast start, I thought they came out the gates not intimidated and excited about the atmosphere.”
The Utes answered the Wildcat drive with a trip to the endzone of their own, cutting the Wildcat lead down to 10–7 and bringing the first quarter to an end. Although the Wildcats were winning the game, their offense was inefficient, something that would come back to bite them as the game played on.
At this point in the game, senior running back Treshawn Garrett left with a leg injury and did not return.
“I thought we were playing dang good defense there for awhile but we went a little haywire at the end of the second quarter, start of the third,” Hill said. “I think we were trying to make plays that weren’t there to be made, had a couple injuries and didn’t respond well to adversity.”
Throughout the second quarter, the Wildcats failed to put any points on the board and the Utes were heating up offensively. Scoring from 86 yards out and adding a field goal to take a 17–10 lead into halftime.
This would be the last time in the game where the Wildcats were within one score. In the second half, the Utes showed off their Pac-12 talent and went from being down 10–0, to scoring 41 unanswered points and advancing to 1–0 on the season.
“In the second half, we came out and started to do a little too much at times instead of trusting the process and trusting our assignments,” May said. “Obviously we got some things we need to clean up but it’s the first game of the year so that’s completely normal.”
For the Wildcats, this was the best team they will play all year and they can learn from the loss. The Wildcats came out sharp before losing their swagger as the game went on. The Utes were able to pounce on WSU’s lack of precision and run away with the game in the second half.
Up next for Weber State is a trip to Cal Poly on Sept. 6 before their home opener Sept. 15 against South Dakota at 6 p.m.