On a cold and wet day, the fifth-ranked Weber State University football team took on the ninth-ranked University of Northern Iowa Panthers at Stewart Stadium for the 100 Anniversary of football in a 29–17 win.
“They’re really good. We knew that coming in,” head coach Jay Hill said. “That’s a legit team that we just beat. I’m happy for our guys; we have some stuff to clean up.”
The Wildcats set the tone on the opening kickoff when redshirt freshman Naseme Colvin hit UNI’s returner hard after a short gain, bringing the small early game crowd to its feet.
Senior Adam Rodriquez kept the fast pace for the ’Cats when he sacked the Panthers’ quarterback on third down, forcing the first punt of the half.
The offense continued the fast start on their first play from scrimmage. Sophomore quarterback Kaden Jenks found junior wide receiver Rashid Shaheed wide open in the middle of the field and WSU jumped out to an early 7–0 lead thanks to the 73 yard reception.
“The coaches put together a great plan, and we knew coming out that we were going to come out and execute,” Jenks said. “Shaheed ran a great route, and I just had to throw the ball to them.”
Junior kicker Trey Tuttle kicked the ensuing kickoff, and sophomore Aaron Sessions forced a fumble that was recovered by John Abercrombie on the 15 yard line.
Jenks and the Wildcats’ offense weren’t able to find any success, but Tuttle added three points on a 25 yard field goal.
Junior safety Preston Smith deflected a pass up the middle that was intercepted by sophomore safety Brody Burke.
“We really stress on winning the turnover margin,” Burke said. “Taking care of the ball on offense and getting takeaways on defense.”
The Wildcat offense drove 38 yards on their next drive, which was capped off by redshirt freshman Kris Jackson with a two yard touchdown rush and a 17–0 lead. Both teams traded field goals to end the first quarter with a 20–3 lead for WSU.
Shaheed left the game in the first quarter after the kickoff went through the end zone with an apparent leg injury.
“Losing Shaheed was a big deal, just in the game plan and things we were doing,” Hill said. “As far as the injury goes, he’s going to be fine. It’s a hip pointer. He’ll be out a couple days, and we’re hoping he’ll be full go next week.”
Shaheed’s hip pointer is a deep bruise on the ridge of the hip bone.
Jenks continued to lead the offense through the air when he found sophomore Justin Malone for 13 yards and a 27–3 lead. The Panthers answered with a drive of their own, finding the end zone for the first time and both teams went into their locker rooms 27–10 in favor of WSU.
Although the Wildcats’ offense could not find a first down in all of the third quarter, WSU still managed to improve their lead.
Senior punter Doug Lloyd was the difference in the third quarter.
Lloyd pinned the struggling Panthers’ offense inside their own two yard line with two consecutive punts, booting one punt 71 yards.
The Panthers center snapped the ball over the quarterback’s head and out the end zone for a safety and a 29–10 lead headed into the fourth quarter.
As both teams headed to the sidelines for the last quarter change, the rain that was expected throughout the night started coming down as the temperature reached 49 degrees.
WSU’s defenses stopped the Panthers cold on fourth down as the offense took to the field looking to get their first first down of the second half.
With the Wildcat offense continuing to struggle in the second half, Lloyd again pinned the Panthers inside the five yard line. The Panthers’ offense was again looking at a 95 yard field down 19.
“He did a great job,” Hill said on Lloyd. “Pinned them multiple times. He’s very accurate and poised. Those are huge, making them drive 95 yards. He probably should be the Big Sky Player of the Week, especially for special teams.”
Four consecutive plays and penalties helped lead the Panthers to a two-yard touchdown reception and cut the Wildcats’ lead to 29–17.
The Panthers set up for an onside kick that was kicked out of bounds, and Weber State took over on the Panthers’ 45 with four minutes remaining.
Lloyd came back onto the field after the struggling offense gained just one yard and pinned the Panthers for the third time inside the two yard line.
Despite finishing the second half with one yard of total offense, and playing conservatively, the Wildcats held on to their impressive first half lead with a 29–17 win over a top ten FCS program.
“In that situation, especially when it starts sprinkling and raining, don’t do something stupid with a team as good as them, especially with our defense,” Hill said on playing conservative. “Even their touchdown drive it took six minutes off the clock … I’m not a conservative guy, but I don’t want to lose the game in those situations.”
WSU improved to 2-2 on the season and look forward to their matchup with the 2-3 Idaho Vandals next weekend.
“I think we are where a lot of people picked us to be,” Hill said. “We’ve beat two really good FCS teams and right in the hunt with two FBS teams. Bottom line, we are close to where we need to be, but we got to get better.”
The ’Cats return home for their homecoming game on October 12 against in-state rival the Southern Utah Thunderbirds at 6 p.m.