Big Sky Conference

Slow start, turnovers doom Weber State in first round playoff loss


The Mocs looked every bit the playoff-tested team while the Wildcats looked every bit the team that hasn’t been to the playoffs yet this decade, particularly in the first half in Chattanooga.

Chattanooga has been to the FCS playoffs each of the last three seasons, posting two wins under Russ Huesman. The Mocs lost 35-30 to No. 1 New Hampshire in 2014 and lost 41-35 in overtime to top seed Jacksonville State last season. In their third straight postseason appearance, the Mocs made a statement in the first round of the FCS playoffs against visiting Weber State.

The hosts from the Southern Conference built a 24-0 lead in the first half thanks to a dominant offensive first quarter and a slew of Weber State errors in the second frame on the way to a 45-14 for the Mocs. Chattanooga of the Southern Conference moved to 9-3 with the win. Chattanooga will play at top-ranked and fifth-seeded Sam Houston State in Huntsville, Texas at 1 p.m. MST on December 3.

Weber State head coach Jay Hill

Weber State head coach Jay Hill

“Chattanooga is a really good football team and you can’t turn the ball over five times against a good team like that,” said WSU head coach Jay Hill. “That was the difference in the game. We played well at times, we just had moments that really hurt our momentum. This was a really good experience for our team and I’m proud of what this team has accomplished. We have to go back and work harder to get ready to do it next year.”

Chattanooga southpaw quarterback Alejandro Bennifield orchestrated a 12-play, 71-yard drive that lasted five minutes, 24 seconds capped by the dual threat’s 16-yard touchdown run on the first possession of the game. After a stop, Chattanooga marched 85 yards in nine plays and 3:06 capped by a 20-yard touchdown pass to Alphonso Stewart. The second score came on the heels of a touchdown that was called back because of a holding call. UTC closed the first quarter up 14-0.

On Weber’s next possession, sophomore running back Treshawn Garrett went down with an ankle injury and the Wildcats punted. After five straight third down conversions by Chattanooga, Weber State got a stop and forced a punt only to see the kick bounce off Trey Hoskins and recovered by Emory Norred.

The Weber defense held to allow a field goal, but then Weber fumbled the opening kickoff. The Wildcats maintained possession but could not muster a first down.

After earning stops on three of four possessions and trailing 17-0, Weber State senior quarterback Jadrian Clark engineered an 11-play, 72-yard drive inside the Chattanooga 5-yard line. On third down, Clark found junior tight end Andrew Vollert, the Big Sky Conference Newcomer of the Year this season, in the flat. Vollert’s second effort resulted in Lucas Webb stripping the San Jose State transfer, Montrell Pardue recovering the fumble and sprinting 99 yards for a dagger of a touchdown to put the hosts up 24-0.

Weber State quarterback Jadrian Clark (10)

Weber State quarterback Jadrian Clark (10)

On the ensuing WSU possession, Vantrel McMillan smashed Clark from behind. His fluttering throw was intercepted by Lucas Webb to seal a one-sided first half in Tennessee. Weber haled but still went into the locker room on the wrong side of momentum.

In the second half, the gut punches kept coming for the Wildcats. On a fourth down of the first possession after halftime, Bennifield hit Stewart for a 30-yard touchdown to extend the lead to 31-0. Weber State got on the board when on a fake field goal, Stefan Cantwell threw a 21-yard TD to Tui Satuala. But early in the fourth quarter, Nakevion Leslie stripped Drew Batchelor, Webb recovered and Derrick Craine scored a 39-yard touchdown for the final nail in Weber State’s coffin.

Craine finished with 160 yards on 20 carries. Bennifield completed 15-of-26 passes for 154 yards and added the first-quarter rushing touchdown. UTC ran for 229 yards and held the Wildcats to 69 yards on the ground.

In head coach Jay Hill’s third season, the Wildcats surged to a 6-2 record in Big Sky Conference play to finish alone in third place in the league. The 7-4 regular-season finish propelled the Wildcats into the playoffs for the first time since 2009.

Weber State huddleSeventeen Wildcats played their final games on Saturday, including Clark, All-Big Sky linebacker Tre’von Johnson, All-Big Sky safety Josh Burton and all-league offensive linemen Cameron Young and Calvin Steyn. Clark, a third-team All-Big Sky selection, threw for 210 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions in his final collegiate start.

Weber State finishes 7-5.

Photos by Brooks Nuanez or noted. All Rights Reserved. 

About Colter Nuanez

Colter Nuanez is the co-founder and senior writer for Skyline Sports. After spending six years in the newspaper industry with stops at the Missoulian, the Ellensburg Daily Record and the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, the former Washington Newspaper Association Sportswriter of the Year and University of Montana Journalism School graduate ('09) has cultivated a deep passion for sports journalism during his 13-year career covering the Big Sky Conference. In August of 2014, Colter and brother Brooks merged their passions of writing and art to found Skyline Sports.

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