The Southern Utah Thunderbirds came to Stewart Stadium as the Weber State Wildcats’ homecoming date, but the Thunderbirds couldn’t “get lucky” as the ‘Cats sent them home with a 29-14 loss.
The battle between WSU and SUU showcased two teams who could not be any more different. The Wildcats came into the game ranked fourth in the STATS FCS top 25 polls and the Thunderbirds came into the game with a record of 1-5 and having only won 2 of their last 17 games. That deficit didn’t mean WSU went into the game relaxed, though.
“We know we’re gonna get their best shot,” Head Coach Jay Hill said. “They looked much better today and they’ll win a couple of games going down the stretch.”
Despite all the differences between these two teams, there are two things that they have in common: the state they play in and the hatred they have for each other.
After a week of anticipation, the homecoming game kicked off. The Wildcat offense was led by sophomore quarterback Kaden Jenks because the coaching staff decided to keep junior QB Jake Constantine out of the game as he continues to recover from an injury.
“It’s just overall health,” Hill said. “No one knows it, but last week Kaden was hurt and Jake started. This week, Kaden was 100 percent healthy, and Jake should be back to 100 percent next week.”
The game was clearly going to be physical from the start. Neither team could come up with points in the opening quarter, but as the first quarter came to an end, the Wildcats were knocking on the door.
In the opening minute of the second quarter, the Wildcats scored their first points of the game after junior wide receiver Rashid Shaheed carried the ball nine yards and crossed the goal line to make it 7-0. This score capped off a 14 play, 92-yard drive.
The Wildcats shut down the T-Bird offense on the next drive. Their offense came back out and was looking to add more points after Jenks lofted a pretty pass to sophomore wide receiver Ty MacPherson, who was brought down inside the red zone. However, a missed field goal ended the WSU drive and kept the score at 7-0.
As the half began to wind down, Southern Utah went on an 80-yard drive that lasted just over two minutes. SU finished the drive with a 23-yard passing TD to knot the score at 7-7.
SUU then forced a WSU punt and found themselves on another drive when the Wildcats’ sophomore safety Brody Burke decided to put a halt to things and came away with an interception.
Weber State’s defense put on a show with their greedy play as they forced four turnovers. They came away with four interceptions and forced two fumbles that they failed to recover.
The 7-7 score carried into halftime and the 4th ranked Cats’ were on upset alert, outgaining their rivals by 173-148 in total yards during the opening half.
The second half began with SUU looking to take the lead. They poised themselves to do so after driving down the field and getting into the red zone, but the goalpost denied them points after a T-Bird field goal pinged off the yellow steel, leaving the score the same.
The next time the SUU offense was on the field, junior linebacker BJ Taufalele snagged an interception and returned it past the 50-yard line, putting WSU back in business.
Tough running from junior running back Kevin Smith helped put the Wildcats in scoring position, which set up a 6-yard touchdown pass from Jenks to junior wide reciever David Ames to give WSU a 14-7 advantage.
It’s not often when Shaheed gets an opportunity to field a punt or kickoff, and he showed why after fielding a punt and leaving smoke behind him as he flew past every Thunderbird for a touchdown. Unfortunately, there was a block in the back on the play, and the score was taken off the board.
After a WSU drive that brought them near the goal line, senior defensive end Adam Rodriguez received a direct snap and scored a three-yard touchdown. WSU missed the extra point but the lead became 20-7.
Next to join the interception party was Marque Collins. The sophomore cornerback completed the catch while being hit to give WSU their third takeaway. The offense took advantage of their gift from the defense, drove down the field and scored on a one-yard run by freshman running back Kris Jackson.
The fourth and final takeaway of the night was from sophomore cornerback Eddie Heckard, who had some words for SUU on Twitter during the week. His interception came after bullying an SUU wide receiver by ripping the ball from his hands. Heckard had 9 tackles to go along with his pick.
“He might be one of the strongest dudes on our defense,” Rodriguez said on Heckard. “He wants you to come and take it away from him.”
The Wildcats added their final points of the night after a 42-yard field goal from kicker Trey Tuttle to make it 29-14 late in the fourth.
It was a slow start for the Wildcats, but they found momentum and never looked back as they came out of the locker room looking like the fourth-ranked team in the country.
Following a night where he had 16 carries for 108 yards, Kevin Smith described the locker room during halftime: “It was pretty much demeanor. Nothing was said, we just looked around and knew what we had to do.”
The Thunderbirds came into Ogden looking for an upset win and left with their third straight loss to their rivals and an earful from WSU’s student section, which seems to grow with every home game.
Northern Arizona will be the next team to get a crack at the ‘Cats. The Lumberjacks will come into Stewart Stadium on October 19 at 2 p.m.