ROBERT CASEY, Weber State Athletics
Josh Davis became the second all-time leading rusher in program history, Abraham Williams set a Big Sky Conference record with his fourth kickoff return for a touchdown this season, and — when Kyle Thompson threw a 23-yard 5-seconds from the end Field goal started — Weber State Football survived a series of gaffes in the second half to defeat Northern Arizona 33-31 in Flagstaff, Arizona on Saturday.
The win gives No. 7 Weber State a 9-2 record to finish out the regular season and ultimately secures one final win to boost the team’s postseason resume ahead of Sunday’s selection show. The Wildcats have now reached nine wins six times in program history, four of them under current head coach Jay Hill. At the same time, Hill achieved his 50th Big Sky win (50-18).
But it wasn’t easy, and WSU helped Northern Arizona in many moments along the way. The Lumberjacks (3-8) suffered their second consecutive home loss to a top-10 team via a last-second field goal after losing to No. 3 Montana State 41-38 two weeks ago.
“Well we kept it fun and interesting huh? That’s about the only way to say it,” said Hügel.
At 21-21 at halftime, Weber had plenty of opportunities to break away thanks to 300 combined return yards from Williams and Hudson Schenck, with Schenck (six returns, 102 yards) providing outstanding field position in punt return play.
ROBERT CASEY, Weber State Athletics
Thompson launched a 39-yard field goal on WSU’s first possession of the second half to give his team a 24-21 lead. And after Northern Arizona quarterback RJ Martinez lit the Wildcats through the air in the first half, the Weber State defense put NAU to three-and-offs every five times they got the ball in the third quarter .
Weber State’s offense, meanwhile, could not take advantage.
Possession that started at the NAU 28 led to a turnover on downs when Jacob Sharp lost a slant in fourth and third. A drive that started at NAU 43 resulted in only a field goal after Davis Rasmussen committed a false start penalty on third and 1 at NAU 8. And possession that started in midfield was fumbled away on the first carry; Dontae McMillan gave up the ball and appeared to recover immediately, but oddly enough, the Lumberjacks were awarded possession without verification.
Despite beating NAU 90-9 in the third quarter, WSU still had a 27-21 lead after scoring just three points in three possessions that started at 50 or better.
“We’ve had some dropped balls that hurt us, misses that hurt us and some cover things that hurt us. But you have to give NAU credit,” Hill said. “We knew it could be an explosive offense if they go in… the quarterback that I love, I think he’s a very good player.”
ROBERT CASEY, Weber State Athletics
At the beginning of the third quarter things got even worse. While Northern Arizona offensively spun its wheels, Weber State attempted a fake punt in fourth place and three of his own 16. Punter Jack Burgess sailed a pass over a wide-open Doug Schiess on the flat in what would have been an easy first down.
Instead, the Lumberjacks took the lead four games later for the first time of the game when Martinez met Hendrix Johnson on a short crossing route and he angled into the end zone for a 28-27 lead at 11:40 in the game.
“Some of these calls are at my expense,” Hill said. “I chose a fake punt that is secured. I knew it was risky, but it was there and we knew it was there. We just have to execute.”
Despite struggling to connect with field-flipping passing plays throughout the game, Bronson Barron saved a third and 19 after taking his only sack of the day. He found a grazing Jon Christensen in midfield, and Christensen got on his knees to secure a 38-yard reception.
That led to Thompson putting through a 41-yard field goal for a 7-12, 30-28 lead.
For the only time in the second half, Northern Arizona showed semblance of reaction when Martinez completed middle passes to win the ‘Jacks for the Weber State 24.
The Wildcats appeared to have almost won the game there when WSU defensive end Nuu Sellesin recorded his unit’s only sack of the game, and Martinez drew in the process. But two WSU players groped for possession as the ball bounced forward until a NAU player eventually recovered.
This allowed Collin Robbins to kick a 39-yard field goal and put the home team at 31-30 with 2:50 left.
Weber State was a playoff suspension prior to Saturday, but any scenario in which Weber State earns a top-8 playoff seed required the Wildcats to put their mistakes behind them and race for the win.
Five positive games gave the Wildcats two first downs against the NAU 43, but time went under 1 minute when McMillan was stopped on a first-down rush without a win.
But on a play-action pass, Barron threw a strike to Ty MacPherson on the left touchline. He beat his man, fought through a lot of contact and grabbed a 33-yarder on the NAU 10 with 41 seconds left.
Four games later, Thompson stepped through the game winner. Thompson was 4 of 4 at field goals on Saturday.
“Field goals were huge. Kyle Thompson, big deal. Grant Sands and Jack (Burgess) with the snaps and holds, and those were pressure kicks. So I’m hooked on this unit,” Hill said. “Hudson Schenck excelled at the punt return game…every time he caught it seemed like he had 15 yards.”
Barron completed 19 of 33 for 22o yards, a touchdown and no interceptions. MacPherson caught eight balls for 97 yards. Schenck added three catches for 29 yards, Christensen had two for 42, and Sharp added two for 39.
Davis’ 80 rushing yards led WSU, with Bankston adding 32 and McMillan adding 30.
A game full of missed opportunities began with the first move of the first quarter. Sharp burned his defender and got deep into field, but Barron threw the ball too far inside instead of hitting Sharp with the ball on the touchline, allowing a NAU safety to catch up and stop the game.
Weber’s afternoon of short fields started early when Burgess checked a punt three games later in the NAU 3. The Wildcats forced a three-and-out, and Hudson Schenck returned the ensuing punt from the Northern Arizona 42 to the 18.
Barron ended the short drive with a beautiful pitch and catch fade to MacPherson for a 5-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
Davis moved up the WSU all-time leaderboards to open the next drive by ripping a 40-yard rush up the left flank. That game put him second on Weber State’s all-time rushing yards list, behind Nick Chournos, and fifth on the all-purpose yards list, behind Tim Toone. He finished for 80 yards on nine carries and now has 3,643 career rushing yards.
McMillan broke a tackle on a third-down pass to continue that drive, and backup quarterback Creyton Cooper finished it off with a 1-yard touchdown rush for a 14-0 lead.
Weber was close to a 21-0 lead when Schenck crossed his man and had an open field, but the shot went wide. Schenck dived and made a 15-yard catch but probably had a TD if he’d been able to keep his feet. WSU then attempted their first fake punt of the day and Burgess hit Christensen for a first down, but it was recalled for an ineligible player in downfield.
Six games later, Northern Arizona got rolling. Martinez threw a rope to Johnson on the right touchline for a 45-yard touchdown pass that put it 14-7 early in the second quarter.
At that point, Williams returned his fourth kickoff return for a touchdown this season with a 21-7 lead. That sets a record in the big sky for most kick return TDs in a season (it’s still a shy of the FCS record for a season). Weber State’s Rashid Shaheed still holds FCS career record at seven; Williams, a sophomore, is more than halfway there.
It was a 100-plus yarder for Williams, as were his other three. That apparently sets an NCAA record for most 100-yard kick return touchdowns in a season. Reggie Dunn, coached by Hill of Utah in 2012, also pulled off the feat.
A 35-yard pass from Martinez to Coleman Owen set up a quick response for Northern Arizona, a 12-yard rushing score from Draycen Hall for 21-14.
Weber State’s next possession ended in downs, 1 yard short of a first down at the NAU 35.
The Lumberjacks mounted a 13-play, 65-yard drive that paused at 6:15 to tie the game at halftime. On the third goal from the 6, Martinez spun around the field to avoid an oncoming Jack Kelly, buying enough time to find Isaiah Gerena for a touchdown with a second left at halftime.
At half time it looked questionable. Martinez was 21 of 27 for 234 yards and NAU had outscored WSU 285-167.
Fast forward to Thompson’s game-winning kick and NAU had another game from scrimmage by 5 seconds. The Lumberjacks suffered an 18-yard loss while attempting a multilateral wonder play that gave them 10 points for just 55 yards in the second half. Martinez was 10 of 16 for 51 yards after halftime.
Coleman and Johnson had big plays for the Lumberjacks, each catching nine balls for 115 and 113 yards, respectively.
The win is Hill’s first in Flagstaff in three attempts, giving him at least one win on every Big Sky venue.
BIG SKY RESULTS
#2 Sacramento State 27, #24 UC Davis 21
#3 Montana State 55, #13 Montana 21
No. 21 Idaho 38, State of Idaho 7
East Washington 45, North Colorado 21