WSU's late drama can't top Grizzlies

Photo By: Tyler Brown
Weber State University’s defense takes down a University of Montana player. WSU fell to UM 24-21 in a close Big Sky Conference game on Saturday afternoon. WSU will next take on the University of Northern Colorado next Saturday at Stewart Stadium.

After leading for much of the game, Weber State University fell short against the University of Montana on Saturday at Stewart Stadium, falling 24-21.

Following a UM field goal which gave the team a 10-point lead, Cordero Dixon returned a 100-yard kickoff for a touchdown, blazing down the left side of the field with three minutes left. It was Dixon’s first career kick return.

Down by three points with three minutes remaining, the Wildcat defense needed to come up with a defensive stop against the Grizzlies, but was unable to get the ball back for WSU.

“I never want to lose to Montana,” said WSU linebacker Anthony Morales. “It hurts right now because we were so close.”

The game started out slowly, with the Wildcats’ offense looking sloppy in the first quarter. Mike Hoke fumbled the ball once, Xavian Johnson dropped a catch on what likely would have been a touchdown, and two WSU punts were partially blocked by the Grizzly defense.

Hoke, who had three fumbles during the game, said UM’s defense was one of the best the Wildcats have faced all season.

“That’s probably the best front seven we’ve played,” Hoke said. “I guess they lived up to the billing.”

On the other hand, WSU’s defense played well against the Grizzlies in the first quarter. Despite having the ball inside WSU’s red zone multiple times in the quarter, UM only managed a field goal in the opening quarter.

Morales stood out defensively for WSU, finishing the game with 23 tackles, tying for sixth-best in school history. Morales said he wasn’t focused on his stats during the game.

“I’m not a real big stat guy,” Morales said. “I’m not happy when I’m making a tackle six yards down the field.”

WSU’s offense seemed to wake up in the second quarter. To start out the second quarter, Johnson got the biggest play for WSU up to that point. He caught a short-screen pass and then cut upfield, spinning away from two defenders to gain 18 yards. Then a run by C.J. Tuckett and a catch by Lanny Papanikolas got WSU in scoring position.

A few plays later, Tuckett crashed up the middle into the end zone to give the Wildcats a 7-3 lead early in the second quarter.

Four minutes before halftime, UM’s Peter Nguyen caught a pass and took it 72 yards down the field to get UM inside the 20-yard line. Two plays later, the Grizzlies retook the lead on a short run up the middle by Jordan Canada before the half.

The Grizzlies came out hot in the third quarter, quickly driving down the field before Antwain Stutson came up with an interception for WSU. The Wildcats took advantage of the turnover, driving down the field, and Kris Parham found the end zone for WSU’s second touchdown of the game.

Halfway through the fourth quarter, the Grizzlies retook the lead, capping off a long drive with a short touchdown pass to Bryce Carver. UM then completed a two-point conversion to take a seven-point lead with six minutes left in the game.

The Wildcats got one touchdown back thanks to Dixon’s kickoff return, but were unable to overcome the Grizzlies, falling to their eighth loss of the season.

Despite the loss, Head Coach Jody Sears said he is still trying to keep things positive for the team.

“I wanted to make sure that they knew that we are proud of them,” he said. “There’s a lot of stuff to build on.”

Now WSU will remain at home and face the University of Northern Colorado next week, then they will head on the road and take on Idaho State University to finish the season.