The Weber State Wildcats football program continues to make its mark on the Big Sky Conference with the team winning its fourth straight Big Sky championship and its first ever outright conference title in program history with a 20–15 victory over Idaho State.
“It feels amazing,” Conner Mortensen, Wildcat senior linebacker, said. “We don’t have to share it; we got it all to ourselves. It’s been a crazy year, and we’ve been working hard to make it happen.”
WSU made history with the win, setting a new record of 11 straight home victories, and the second team to ever win four straight Big Sky Championships.
“I’m proud of the players and the coaches. First outright conference championship in school history, it’s a big deal,” Jay Hill, Wildcats head coach, said. “There’s so many good things going on and I’m just happy with where the program’s heading.”
Solidifying the afternoon’s big game status were two F-35A’s out of Hill Air Force Base’s 388th Fighter Wing whose shadows fell over the turf at Stewart Stadium seconds after the conclusion of the National Anthem in a flyover that had the 4,786 fans in attendance on their feet.
The Wildcats emerged out of the purple pre-game smoke but still appeared to be in a haze to start the game when the team’s first two offensive possessions ending in punts.
WSU’s offense managed 14 points through 3 1/2 quarters, but with 8:25 left to play in the fourth quarter, Bengal quarterback Tyler Vander Waal led ISU on a three minute drive. Starting with a quick 11-yard first down slant to receiver Xavier Guillory and a 55-yard catch and run from wideout Tanner Conner brought ISU to the Wildcat 15-yard line.
The Wildcat defense dug in, forcing Bengal kicker Kevin Ryan onto the turf.
Ryan’s first field goal attempt of the day was blocked, but he knocked through the go-ahead field goal, leaving 5:20 on the clock for WSU’s Bronson Barron and the Wildcat offense to operate a comeback with a touchdown needed to win the game.
After the sluggish offensive play throughout the game, Barron took WSU down the field.
The drive began with a 15-yard pass interference penalty against ISU’s Jayden Dawson, who was trying to contain Rashid Shaheed, but grabbed onto him drawing the penalty flag.
Shaheed drew multiple pass interference calls throughout the game and finished with six catches for 56 yards.
Weber running back Dontae McMillan carried the ball for 13 yards on the next two plays, picking up a first down.
After a defensive holding call against ISU’s secondary, the Wildcats’ freshman signal-caller hit junior receiver Ty MacPherson for a 16-yard pickup on a comeback route leading him out of bounds.
The next play, Daniel Wright Jr. took the hand-off, running to the left and stiff-arming ISU defenders in his way to the end zone. He dove for the pylon with both hands outstretched, knocking it over for the Wildcat go-ahead six-yard touchdown— giving WSU a 20–15 lead.
“The conversation was just go execute, all eleven guys go do your job on every play, focus on one play at a a time and do what you’re supposed to do, and once you do that, go do it again on the next play,” Barron said of the game’s final drive. “No one was nervous, no one was doubting, we knew we were going to go down and score.”
The Wildcats nearly converted the 2-point attempt, but wide receiver David Ames was knocked out of the end zone by Bengal defender Quantraill Morris-Walker.
ISU would get one last grasp with the football, but on a first-and-10 pass from the Bengal 37-yard line, junior cornerback, WSU’s Marque Collins, sealed the Wildcats’ victory and first ever outright Big Sky title when he toe-tapped an interception directly in front of the Wildcats sideline — sending the team into a celebrating frenzy.
“We’re so tight on defense. We all want to see each other succeed, and Marque, he’s been battling injuries all year so to see him make that play. He deserved it,” said Mortensen.
The defense sealed the win, but Barron knelt down to run out the clock, making it official.
Barron completed 15 of 24 passes for 258 yards per touchdown.
Flying all over the field was senior linebacker Mortensen, who finished the game with 11 tackles, earning him his second Big Sky Defensive Player of the Week honor of the season.
“It’s fun to see each other make plays, everyone’s flying around, everyone’s hungry,” Mortensen said. “It’s a party on the defensive side.”
The defense bailed out WSU twice after turnovers, including with 1:01 in the first quarter. Junior tight end Justin Malone hurdled a defender after catching a pass, but the ball was knocked loose by the ISU defense.
Malone came back in the second half, redeeming himself with a touchdown catch lofted across the field to him as he ran down the middle of the field wide open.
With 12:07 left in the second quarter, junior quarterback Randall Johnson entered the game but fumbled on the first play on a QB keeper.
“We did not do a good job of finishing drives in the first half,” Hill said. “Just too many issues.”
The Wildcats put its first points of the game on the scoreboard when Barron hurled a 60-yard bomb to MacPherson that fell straight out of sky into the junior receiver’s arms before he was dragged to the ground at the 1-yard line.
MacPherson finished the day with four receptions for 108 yards.
Two plays later McMillan plunged into the end zone for the Wildcats’ first touchdown of the game and a 7–3 lead with 3:26 to play in the second quarter.
McMillan had 90 yards on 21 carries and a touchdown in WSU’s regular season finale.
Josh Davis didn’t play due to an injury, but McMillan and Wright Jr. led the charge on the ground with Wright Jr. adding another 35 yards.
“Daniel and Dontae played great stepping up and picking up, they’re fantastic,” Barron said. “I’m very proud of those guys because they ran the ball so well. It opened things up for me.”
Junior punter Mackenzie Morgan earned Big Sky Special Teams Player of the Week Honors, pinning the Bengals inside the 10-yard line three times, including his season-high of 65 yards.
The Wildcats were ecstatic after the win, and the freshman quarterback was happy for the team’s senior leadership.
“It’s incredible to share it with these seniors. These guys are leaders on our team, they deserve it for sure, and winning it for the first time outright, that’s a big deal,” Barron said. “Everyone on this squad loves one another, just one big family. So being able to share that win with your family is huge.”
The WSU celebration was set to music with the Wildcat band in attendance for the first time this season.
“I’m happy we can return to the stadium and support our football team. I’m glad I was able to experience in person, safely,” Braxton Brownlee, president of bands, said. “I’m excited about the upcoming fall season and can’t wait to perform for a live audience again.”
WSU next looks to the FCS Playoffs, where the team made it farther than ever before in 2019, falling in the semi-finals to James Madison University.
“Now we need to take the next step and make a little more noise in the playoffs than we have,” Hill said. “Hopefully after this week we can get some guys back in healthy and be ready to make a real playoff run. The good thing is we’ve yet to play our best football game.”
The Wildcats will find out the opponent they’ll be facing on April 18, during the FCS Selection Show on ESPNU.