In Weber State’s home opener at Stewart Stadium, the No. 2-ranked Wildcats clawed back from a 10-point halftime deficit to send the No. 23-ranked UC Davis Aggies back to the Sacramento Valley with a loss.
“It was a bit of a slow start. I was worried about that coming off the bye week … we didn’t look sharp in the first half,” Jay Hill, the Wildcats’ head coach, said.
It was a defensive battle at the base of Mount Ogden in a low-scoring ground-and-pound football game with touchdowns striking only three times into the purple-turf end zones.
Wildcats’ quarterback Bronson Barron’s first game inside Stewart Stadium got off to a rocky start with the freshman signal caller completing one of three passes for three yards in the first quarter of play, and his stat line at the half read four of 12 for 17 yards.
WSU’s offense gained only 56 total yards to UC Davis’s 178 at halftime with the Wildcats trailing 10–0.
“You know, the people in the locker room, all those guys in there, we knew that first half it just really wasn’t us,” Barron said. “So the whole mindset in the locker room was, ‘We’re fine. We’re going to come out in the second half with energy.’”
The game’s momentum shifted in WSU’s favor when the sleeping Wildcat offense awoke at the start of the third quarter.
Barron kept WSU’s third quarter drive alive by scrambling six yards for a first down on a 4th-and-1 play at WSU’s 34-yard line.
“[I] thought as soon as as we got that fourth down conversion right at the start of the third quarter the offense exploded there for a minute,” Hill said.
Junior receiver Ty MacPherson caught a pass for an 11-yard pickup, and Barron ran twice for a gain of 13 yards as the Wildcats continued driving down the field.
On 2nd-and-4 at the Aggie 40, Barron rocketed a pass to senior receiver David Ames for 10 yards and on the next play threw a spiraling pass to tight end Justin Malone for a 6-yard pickup.
Following a 3-yard Davis run, Ames caught a pass for 7 yards, setting up the Wildcats in the red zone.
Davis finished the game with 71 yards on 20 carries, and Ames ended his day with four catches for 38 yards.
After a pass interference call against the Aggies, WSU had the ball at the 2-yard line where sophomore running back Dontae McMillan found the end zone and the Wildcats’ first points of the game lit up the scoreboard with 8:49 on the clock in the third quarter.
“In the locker room at halftime, it was stick to what we know how to do… nobody was panicked,” Barron said. “Everybody was like, hey, don’t worry, we’re going to get that play, and it’s going to spark everything.”
McMillan’s touchdown was also the Wildcats’ first touchdown in Ogden of the 2021 spring season.
The Wildcats gained five first downs on the team’s first drive of the second half, compared to the first half, where WSU only moved the chains three times to UC Davis’s 10.
Instead of kicking the extra point after the team’s first touchdown, sophomore receiver Haze Hadley found tight end Logan Snyder wide open in the middle of the end zone for a 2-point conversion.
The Wildcats’ comeback was in full swing in the third quarter with UC Davis driving down the field with a 10–8 lead.
With the ball at their own 41-yard line, the Aggies went for it on fourth-and-short.
The 4,322 WSU fans in attendance roared when Wildcat senior safety Preston Smith tracked down UC Davis’s junior quarterback Hunter Rodrigues in the backfield for a crucial Wildcat fourth down stop, putting the Wildcats’ offense back on the field.
“I don’t know how many fans we had, but it got loud at times,” Smith said. “It felt like there were 10,000 people here, but it was really nice. We were worried for a while we wouldn’t have any.”
With the ball near midfield, Barron rocketed a 45-yard pass to MacPherson, who went down at the Aggies 10.
On the following play, junior running back Daniel Wright Jr. found the end zone taking the first lead of the game for the Wildcats with 3:29 to go in the third quarter.
With the Aggies’ offense back on the field, the Wildcat defense tightened while leading 15–10.
To end the third quarter, sophomore cornerback Maxwell Anderson nearly picked off an errant throw, but couldn’t secure it.
At the start of the fourth quarter, the Aggies drove down the field and entered Wildcat territory on a 36-yard scamper to the WSU 15.
Senior linebacker Conner Mortensen led the defense in stopping the UC Davis drive and forced Aggie kicker Isaiah Gomez onto the field, where he drilled a 38-yard field goal with 12:14 left on the clock, leaving the Wildcats clinging to a 15–13 lead.
Mortensen emerged with 11 tackles, 3.5 being for a loss at the end of the game, and on March 12 was named the Big Sky Defensive Player of the Week.
“I thought our defense played really well after giving up the touchdown in the first half,” Hill said.
After a WSU punt, Rodrigues dropped back and was intercepted by a leaping Wildcats cornerback Eddie Heckard.
After WSU kicker Kyle Thompson made the Wildcat lead 18–13, Rodrigues once again attempted to lead his team on a game-winning drive but was picked off by WSU’s safety Smith.
“I got to give our secondary credit. I thought they played really well,” Hill said. “We put them on an island most of the game, especially the last three quarters.”
After another Wildcat punt, the defense secured a victory with WSU faithful on its feet as the Aggies’ last-gasp play didn’t cross midfield.
After the tough offensive start to the game, WSU finished the game with 121 rushing yards and 136 passing for 257 total yards of offense.
Two incomplete passes intended for senior wideout Rashid Shaheed proved crucial in contributing to the Wildcats’ slow offensive start.
The first pass was on the second-and-1 during the Wildcats’ opening possession.
Barron launched the football to Shaheed, but the ball sailed just out of reach for the receiver to snag.
“We were two plays away from throwing for 200 yards just on those two plays in the first half,” Hill said. “He just barely misses Rashid, but we’ll be alright and Bronson will be alright.”
With under a minute to play in the first half, Barron threw from WSU’s 47-yard line and bombed the football to Shaheed, but the ball hit the 2017 All-American in the hands and fell to the turf.
UC Davis’s Rodrigues tossed the Aggies’s lone touchdown in Ogden to tight end McCallan Castles.
The quarterback out of Rocklin, California gashed WSU throughout the game for 70 rushing yards on 18 carries.
“You got to give UC Davis credit. I thought they did a phenomenal job with misdirection plays and getting the quarterback involved in the run game,” Hill said. “And just doing some things to get us a little bit out of wack in the run defense.”
The Wildcats improved to 2–0 and the team’s next chance to continue their conquest of the Big Sky comes March 27 at Stewart Stadium in a gridiron showdown with the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks.
“We’ve got a long way to go. Hopefully this just propels us along to the next one,” Hill said.