The Southern Utah University football team nearly pulled off an upset against No. 2/No. 3 Weber State University at Eccles Coliseum Saturday, but a late penalty shut down the T-Birds’ attempt at a comeback.
SUU trailed by three points with 50 seconds remaining in the game and was set to receive the ball for one final possession. The special teams unit lined up to receive the punt, but sent 12 players onto the field, resulting in a penalty that gave Weber State a first down and a win on the road, 19-16.
“I had to apologize to the players. It’s embarrassing to lose like that with 12 guys out there,” SUU head coach Demario Warren said. “That’s on me as a head coach.”
Quarterback Justin Miller completed 24 of 43 passes for 181 yards and found the endzone on the ground. Landen Measom had four receptions for 52 yards while Lance Lawson pulled in six for 43. Dayne Christiansen led the way on the ground, racking up 33 yards on six carries.
La’akea Kaho’ohanohano-Davis led the defense with 11 total tackles and two tackles for loss while Quaid Murray pitched in nine tackles.
The Wildcats dominated SUU in terms of yards gained: 402 to 236. Bronson Barron threw for 167 yards and a touchdown while Dontae McMillan added 138 yards and a score on the ground in the victory.
“The only team that’s beat us this year is us,” Warren said. “That’s why I feel confident in this team to be able to play with anybody. It’s hard to see those guys faces after they’ve been celebrating for so long in a game and not be able to come away with a win.”
Weber State’s defense showed its claws on the first possession of the game, forcing SUU into a quick three-and-out after the kickoff. Barron led his team out to midfield before the T-Birds stepped up and forced a punt.
SUU’s offense punted again on the next possession, and Barron immediately found Ty MacPhearson for a 56-yard completion to take the Wildcats into the redzone for the first time. A pair of penalties prevented Weber from getting into the endzone, but Kyle Thompson smashed a 51-yard field goal through the uprights to give the visitors the lead 3-0 with 6:45 remaining in the first quarter.
Miller led SUU on a 12-play drive into Weber State territory after the ensuing kickoff. Christiansen started things off with a 22-yard carry on first down, and a few plays later Miller found Clayton Johnson for a 16-yard gain that left SUU at Weber’s 26-yard line.
George Tarlas burst into the backfield and sacked Miller for a nine-yard loss on third down, forcing a punt by Jake Gerardi. Weber maintained their three-point lead at the end of the quarter.
The T-Bird pass rush ended the next two drives by Weber State — though the offense failed to capitalize and punted both times it got the ball back.
The Wildcats again failed to get things going on their next drive. Punter Morgan McKenzie lined up to punt at his 25-yard line when Kaho’ohanohano-Davis lept in front of the kick, scooped up the loose ball and scampered into the endzone. Manny Berz had his extra point attempt blocked, but with 3:42 remaining, the T-Birds led 6-3.
SUU again forced a stop on defense and took over at its own 32 with 1:30 left on the clock. Miller marched his team down the field, eventually finding Johnson with a back shoulder throw on the right hash for a 19-yard gain that took the T-Birds into field goal range with 14 seconds left. Berz knocked home a 39-yard field goal at the stroke of halftime and gave SUU a 9-3 lead at the break.
Weber outgained SUU 147 yards to 92 in the first half, as the T-Birds were only able to muster seven yards on the ground before the break. Both teams converted 2-of-9 third down attempts in the first half. The teams were nearly equal in terms of time of possession, but Weber State recorded seven penalties resulting in 85 yards compared to just one penalty by SUU.
The offenses came alive in the second half as both teams converted on their lone drives of the third quarter. Barron found Dallin Jamison for a 4-yard receiving touchdown to cap off a 5:53 drive that covered 75 yards in 13 plays. Weber failed on a two-point conversion attempt following the TD, knotting things up at nine.
SUU responded with an eight-minute, 18 play, 78-yard drive of its own. The T-Birds had their drive extended on fourth down after a Weber State holding call, and Miller found paydirt on a quarterback sneak a few players later to put SUU ahead 16-9.
Weber State took the ball at the start of the fourth quarter and immediately drove down the field. McMillan exploded through a hole on the left side of the defensive front and shimmied past the safety into the endzone for a 43-yard touchdown. This time Weber added the point after and tied the game at 16 with 14:51 remaining.
The T-Birds went three-and-out on the next possession, but the Wildcats followed suit and returned the ball after failing to gain a first down. Miller had a 32-yard pitch and catch to Christiansen called back by the instant replay crew but found Lance Lawson on a crossing route for 17 yards right after.
Jay Green Jr. fumbled on the next play, giving Weber the ball on SUU’s 39. McMillan gashed the SUU secondary once again with a 22 yard rush that put the Wildcats into the redzone. The T-Birds made a goal line stand and forced another field goal by Montgomery, this time from 19 yards. SUU took over with 10 minutes remaining, trailing 19-16.
Miller lofted a ball down the seam to Measom for 27 yards to take the T-Birds into Wildcat territory, but the drive stalled and Miller’s pooch punt attempt bounced into the endzone with 7:23 left to play.
Weber again pushed the ball beyond midfield, but the T-Bird defense again forced a punt. SUU benefitted from a pass interference call on the first play of the drive but couldn’t move the ball any further. Confronted with a third and four with three and a half minutes remaining, Warren elected to punt from his own 31 yard line.
The Wildcats began ticking the clock down with handoffs to McMillan. McMillan gained two first downs before being forced into a third and six. The T-Bird defense dropped McMillan at the line of scrimmage on the ensuing play and took their final timeout with 50 seconds remaining.
That’s when the punting unit sent 12 players on the field, giving Weber a free first down and chance to put the game to bed.
“I feel like we should be undefeated. We all feel like we should be undefeated,” Kaho’ohanohano-Davis said. “We’ve put way too much work in. Now we just have to finish.”
With the loss, SUU falls to 1-4 on the season having played all of its games in conference play. The T-Birds have lost four games by a combined seven points this season and have yet to win at home in 2021. They’ll have one more chance to do so on Saturday, April 10, when they take on Northern Arizona University.
Story by: Connor Sanders
Phoyo courtesy of SUU Athletics Strategic Communication