After a fifteen-month gridiron hiatus, Weber State pounced into action against the Idaho State Bengals in Pocatello. The Wildcats scored seven touchdowns, four by air and three by land, on the way to a 49–21 blowout victory.
“Just to get back out there and play against somebody else other than ourselves and to be playing for something again was huge,” Wildcats head coach Jay Hill said. “Man, [I’m] super happy with the players and how they responded. It’s good to come up here and get a win.”
The Wildcats scored the most points in a season opener on the road in school history, and Hill earned his 35th Big Sky win — the most ever for a WSU head coach.
Freshman quarterback Bronson Barron completed 17 of 27 passes for 312 yards and four touchdowns in his first start for the Wildcats.
The American Fork native was named the Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Week on Feb. 28.
“You know, my teammates around me were giving me the support I needed the whole time,” Barron said. “And we got great guys in the quarterback room and we love one another and we push each other, each and every day.”
On the ground, Josh Davis, WSU’s two-time First Team All-Big Sky Conference running back, took a 64-yard run to the house, followed by redshirt freshman running back Dontae McMillan finding the end zone twice on two short-yardage runs from inside the Bengals’ 5-yard line.
“I thought it was a very well played game for it being the first game and having not played for over 430 days,” Coach Hill said.
Holt Arena, the Bengals’ home field, was filled at 18% capacity with 2,211 fans cheering in the stands when the Wildcats took control of the game early on in the first quarter.
After both team’s offenses went three-and-out and punted on the offense’s first possessions, the Wildcats received the ball back.
WSU started moving the ball down the field on a 12-yard pass from Barron to McMillan, but were forced to punt three plays later.
ISU quarterback Tyler Vander Waal moved the Bengals across midfield and into Wildcat territory on a pass to tight end Nate Shubert who was brought down at the Wildcats’ 25-yard line.
“He’s [Vander Waal] a tough kid and we threw a lot at him, and he’s going to be a good player for them,” Hill said. “He’s been a good player in his past; he won some big games when he was at Wyoming.”
But the Bengals’ drive was halted when ISU committed the first turnover of the game.
WSU’s senior linebacker Conner Mortensen grabbed an interception off a deflected pass thrown by Vander Waal.
On third-and-3 Barron dropped back and hauled off a 48-yard pass to Ty MacPherson, who was brought down at the Bengals’ 23-yard line.
The Bengals’ defense swatted away two of Barron’s passes intended for wide receivers Josh Amasio and David Ames on second and third down, forcing the Wildcat field goal unit onto the turf.
The game remained scoreless after WSU’s freshman kicker Kyle Thompson missed the field goal.
ISU drove the ball inside of Wildcat territory again, but punted to end the first quarter.
The Bengals would punt four times from around the Wildcat 35-yard line.
After both teams punted back and forth to start the second quarter, Wildcat D-lineman Logan Lutui came down with the defense’s second interception of the game on a deflected Vander Waal pass.
“Going into the game it was a big confidence booster knowing I have one of the top defenses in the country,” Barron said. “Having the defense out there to get me the ball back makes a world of difference.”
Two plays later, Barron tossed his first touchdown as a Wildcat to Davis, who ran across the goal line untouched for the 27-yard score and WSU’s first touchdown of the season.
“We knew our game plan coming in as a team, so honestly there wasn’t that big of a change. It was just doing what we know how to do, and then we put it all in place,” Barron said of the offense’s slow start.
The Wildcat defense forced another ISU punt, which set the offense up near midfield.
On first-and-10 Matt Hammer, WSU’s offensive coordinator, dialed up a reverse flea flicker.
Barron handed the ball off to Davis, who pitched it to a receiver cutting back across the line of scrimmage who then pitched the ball back to Barron.
The Wildcat quarterback then launched the ball to a wide-open Ames for a 55-yard touchdown, taking a 14–0 Wildcat lead which the team took to the halftime locker room.
“The O-line, you know they’re special. Without them, I’m not able to take those shots downfield,” Barron said.
Coming out of the half, the Bengals responded with a quick scoring strike.
Vander Waal threw a short pass to senior wideout Tanner Conner, who bounced off two WSU defenders and outran the rest of the defense for a 74-yard touchdown, cutting the Wildcat lead to 14–7.
WSU received the ball and Barron dropped back, hitting all-American senior wide receiver Rashid Shaheed in stride down the right sideline for a 38-yard touchdown to extend the Wildcat lead to 21–7.
“Having guys like David Ames, Ty MacPherson and Rashid Shaheed, man, I just throw it up there and those guys make plays, simple as that,” Barron said.
The scoring was just beginning for the purple and white, and a Wildcat feeding frenzy ensued.
With 10:28 to go in the third quarter, WSU sophomore cornerback Eddie Heckard stripped the ball from ISU’s Conner and safety Desmond Williams recovered it for the Wildcats.
“I thought the defense played outstanding. We did basically everything we wanted to do in the first half,” Hill said. “We confused them we got some sacks, and we got two turnovers.”
After a short offensive drive down the field, Shaheed snagged his second touchdown of the game on a 9-yard pass from Barron in the front corner of the tiger-striped end zone, extending the Wildcats’ lead to 28–7.
Davis capped off WSU’s 28-point third quarter by ripping off a 64-yard touchdown run followed by McMillan plunging in from the ISU 4-yard line to take a 42–7 Wildcat lead.
“It was 42–7, and at that point we made the decision. We got five or six real key guys, and at 42–7 the game was pretty much over. We didn’t want to do something dumb with them,” Coach Hill said. “So we subbed out maybe six or seven guys.”
ISU gained momentum in the fourth quarter after Vander Waal threw two touchdowns including a 52-yarder to Conner with under 10 minutes to play.
Vander Waal completed 17 of 42 passes for 304 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions for the Bengals.
By the time the dust settled, the Wildcats had gained 289 total rushing yards and 638 yards of total offense.
“We’re explosive and we love to compete, and that’s something you’ll see throughout the whole season,” Barron said.
WSU is ranked No. 2 in the FCS — the team’s highest ranking ever.
“We got to stay humble and just keep getting better. That’s the key,” Hill said.
The Wildcats were scheduled to travel to San Luis Obispo, California to take on Cal Poly on March 6, but due to COVID concerns, the game has been postponed to April 19.
WSU’s next game will be in front of a limited audience at Stewart Stadium on March 13, in what will be WSU’s first home game since the Wildcats defeated Montana in the FCS Playoff quarterfinals on Dec. 13, 2019.