Back in Grand Style: Wildcats Overwhelm Bengals 49-21
(Photo courtesy of Weber State University)
By Joe Traub
It’s like deja vu all over again.
Despite not playing a game in 435 days, the Weber State University football team returned Saturday like they had never left. In the long-awaited opener of the 2021 spring season, the Wildcats romped over the Idaho State Bengals 49-21 in Pocatello led by Rashid Shaheed and Josh Davis running all over the field for scores, just as they have done many times in seasons past.
Heading into the game, the big question was who would start under center for the Wildcats? After a battle between Bronson Barron and Randall Johnson in preseason camp, nothing was officially announced heading into Saturday.
However, the question was quickly answered as the freshman Barron trotted out with the offense to begin the game. It marked the first competitive game action for Barron since Nov. 3, 2017, when he was finishing up his high school career at American Fork. He then served a mission for his church and was slated to make his collegiate debut in the 2020 season that never kicked off due to the pandemic.
Barron and the offense appeared a bit rusty in the first 22 minutes of play, as neither team cracked the scoreboard. WSU did put together a threat midway through the first quarter thanks to a 48-yard strike from Barron to junior wide receiver Ty MacPherson, but it stalled when Kyle Thompson missed a field goal in his first attempt as a Wildcat. Not to worry, the offense would soon be working together like a well-oiled machine.
Weber State’s star-studded defense was ready to go from the outset. Junior defensive end George Tarlas brought down ISU starting quarterback Tyler Vander Waal for the first sack of the spring season. Later in the quarter, senior linebacker Conner Mortensen picked off a Vander Waal pass to help keep the Bengals off the board.
With the Wildcats and Idaho State still locked in a scoreless tie, Weber State made an emphatic statement halfway through the second quarter. Redshirt freshman defensive end Logan Lutui got his hands on a Vander Waal attempt and returned it to the ISU 22. Barron wasted no time, hitting Josh Davis over the top for the first Weber State touchdown in over a year.
The Bengals quickly went three-and-out on their ensuing possession but would quickly get the ball back, for reasons that left Wildcats fans with nothing but smiles on their faces.
After a punt, the ‘Cats executed a perfect double reverse/flea flicker play that ended up with Barron tossing a 55-yard dime down the field, right into the waiting arms of senior wide receiver David Ames. The touchdown helped Weber State open up a 14-0 lead as they scored twice in just over a minute. Coincidentally, Ames scored a 69-yard touchdown the last time these teams met up 15 months ago at Stewart Stadium.
The ‘Cats pitched a first-half shutout, marking the third straight meeting in which they held Idaho State off the scoreboard in the opening 30 minutes.
In a scene that was reminiscent of the 2018 regular season finale between the Wildcats and Bengals at Holt Arena, ISU came out of the gate with an explosive scoring play in the second half. Vander Wall hooked up with Tanner Conner for a 74-yard touchdown pass, suddenly trimming WSU’s advantage to 14-7.
In that 2018 game, Weber State immediately answered with an electrifying kickoff return for a touchdown by Shaheed to open it right back up. Flash forward to 2021, and Shaheed struck again. The ‘Cats started moving the ball again, then Barron found Shaheed down the sideline for a 38-yard touchdown, and it was a 21-7 lead after the extra point.
Idaho State was seemingly still in their offensive groove as they converted multiple plays for positive yardage, including a 14-yard pass to Conner which put them at midfield. One small problem for the Bengals, though. Weber State senior linebacker BJ Taufalele stripped the ball from Conner, and junior safety Desmond Williams alertly scooped it up before it went out of bounds.
Once again, the ‘Cats wasted little time converting the takeaway into points. A 42-yard grab by MacPherson highlighted the drive, then Shaheed finished it off with his second consecutive score, making it a commanding 28-7 Wildcat advantage.
The relentless Weber State offensive attack continued in the third quarter, as Davis sprinted to the races for his first rushing touchdown of the spring - a 64-yard score- then redshirt freshman running back Dontae McMillan found the end zone from three yards out for his first career touchdown.
It was a commanding 42-7 lead for the Wildcats after three, and the 28-point outburst was the most for Weber State in a single quarter since they put up 35 in the second of a rousing 63-17 domination at Portland State on Nov. 11, 2017.
With the outcome well in hand, ‘Cats head coach Jay Hill and his assistants opted to let many reserves see the field in the fourth quarter, most notably Randall Johnson. The junior quarterback garnered much attention over the extended offseason after transferring from Middle Tennessee State, and he delivered a solid first impression. Johnson completed both of his passes for a total of 37 yards. While Hill has not named a full-time starting quarterback, it would not be far-fetched to say Johnson could see some more time under center as the spring rolls on.
The Bengals scored two ultimately inconsequential touchdowns in the fourth to make the outcome look a tad more respectable. A tad dose of bad news for the Wildcats came when Taufalele was called for a questionable targeting call after a review, and was subsequently ejected.
Weber State didn’t let any negative vibes linger at the end of what was an overall superb opener, and McMillan capped the evening with his second three-yard rushing touchdown. Two scores in your collegiate debut for an FCS powerhouse? That’ll do Dontae, that’ll do.
The ‘Cats finished with 638 yards of total offense as they moved the ball up and down the field at a relentless pace. Incredibly, Weber State has now won 33 of their last 36 matchups with Idaho State dating back to 1985.
Even though the ‘Cats entered the contest as the No. 4 ranked team in the FCS, they knew nothing could be taken for granted given the surprises around the nation throughout the day. North Dakota State losing, and by a 24-point margin? South Dakota State being handled by North Dakota? Those results were just a couple of clues that anything could happen, and Weber State needed to come out strong.
The Wildcats did just that, and with the aforementioned losses by the Bison and Jackrabbits, WSU has an excellent chance to move up to the second-ranked team in the nation on Monday.
With everything that has happened in our world over the last 12 months, Weber State’s football program was simply hoping for a chance to play again. Now that it has happened, they gave their fans many thrills in an exhilarating spring season opener, and the squad will be hungry for more.
Weber State was originally slated to travel west to take on Cal Poly next weekend, but COVID-19 protocols have forced the postponement of that contest until April 17. As much of the world has been doing for over a year, the Wildcats will go with the flow and spend their bye week practicing at home.
Up next? A return to Stewart Stadium, as the ‘Cats welcome UC Davis for a 1:00 p.m. kickoff on March 13. Up to 5,000 people will be permitted to attend home contests in the spring. It will mark the Aggies first visit to Ogden since Sept. 23, 2017, when the Wildcats delivered a 41-3 thrashing in the homecoming game.