CHENEY, WA. — On a chilly and snowy afternoon in Cheney, Weber State continued its march toward a Big Sky Conference championship with a 28-20 road victory at defending league champion Eastern Washington Saturday.
Weber State piled up 189 rushing yards and 230 yards through the air in its third straight victory. The No. 14 Wildcats now sit at 5-1 in Big Sky play, in a tie with Northern Arizona and Southern Utah atop the league standings. WSU is now 7-2 overall.
“I like this football team,” Weber State fourth-year head coach Jay Hill told Skyline Sports. “It’s a mature football team, and so far we have handled the adversity when it strikes. Like today — we give up an opening drive touchdown and after that, they buckled down and played pretty good on defense. There’s going to continue to be adversity, and we gotta continue to handle it like a mature team.”
The loss is No. 11 EWU’s second straight after five consecutive victories. Eastern blew a 28-25 fourth-quarter lead in a 46-28 loss at No. 19 Southern Utah two weeks ago. The loss coming out of a bye week pushes the Eagles 4-2 in league play, a game off the league-leading race with games at North Dakota and at home against Portland State.
“Coach Jay Hill does a great job at Weber State – they play well home or away,” EWU first-year head coach Aaron Best said. “They are a formidable opponent for a reason – they are a tough out. Today they just made a few more plays than we did.”
From the outset, it seemed like Eastern Washington would run away with the game. Antoine Custer Jr.’s seven-yard touchdown run gave the team an early 7-0 lead, marking the only score of the first quarter.
The first touchdown for the Wildcats came on a 14-yard screen pass from senior quarterback Stefan Cantwell to junior running back Treshawn Garrett less than a minute into in 2nd quarter.
But the Eagles answered with a seven-play, 74-yard scoring drive that was capped off with a 23-yard touchdown pass to EWU wide receiver Nsimba Webster. The junior has scored a touchdown in five consecutive games and six touchdowns total.
But Wildcats quarterback Stefan Cantwell would not be out-dueled by All-American counterpart EWU quarterback Gage Gubrud, leading Weber State on a 11-play, 71-yard scoring drive to level the game at 14-14 with 7:05 left in the first half.
Cantwell hit Garrett for a 35-yard reception on 4th-and-7 to extend the drive and put the ball at the 1-yard line. Weber State wide receiver Drew Batchelor hauled in a 1-yard touchdown on the following play to even the score.
The second half began with no score for 13 minutes. The stretch included four punts. Cantwell, who finished with 230 yards passing and three touchdowns while adding 66 yards on the ground, engineered a 64-yard drive to give WSU a 21-14 lead entering the third quarter.
Long gains by Custer and EWU receiver Terrence Grady pushed the ball down to the WSU 8-yard line early in the fourth quarter. LeGrand Toia’s sack — the first of the game for either team — registered an eight-yard loss and held Eastern to the first of two Roldan Alcobendas fourth-quarter field goals to cut the lead to four.
On the ensuing Weber possession, Weber converted a fake punt for a first down but the visitors were called for a facemask penalty. EWU took over on its own 36 with 10:17 left. Again, Eastern drove inside the Weber 10-yard line and again, EWU settled for an Alcobendas 26-yard field goal to cut the lead to 21-20 with 7:01 left.
“We just couldn’t muster up a touchdown when we got it inside the five – we ended up getting three out of it,” Best said. “It’s a testament to the guys in the red zone on defense — they are a stout bunch. We didn’t execute and part of that is due to Weber State’s ability to do things very well in the red zone.”
Needing a stop on the defensive end, the Eagles simply couldn’t handle Cantwell and the Wildcat backfield. Cantwell’s quarterback option on 3rd-and-4 to convert the 1st down was monumental, but not as huge as to what was about to come. Somehow, Weber State running back David Jones slipped by the EWU defense to go nearly untouched en route for a 24-yard touchdown run.
That made the score 28-20 with 2:26 left in the game. There were two chances for the Eagles to tie the game up, but both fizzled out.
“I thought we played good in the second half,” Hill said. “We got out of drives, we found ways out. We did a good job of disguising some of the things we were doing defensively. Then offensively, the run efficiency late in the game and being able get those couple touchdown drives in the second half were huge.”
The Wildcats ran the ball 38 times for 189 yards and one touchdown, averaging 4.8 yards per carry, to add to Cantwell’s 230 passing yards. Garrett led all receivers with six catches for 93 yards and two touchdowns to go with 39 yards on 11 carries. All-American tight end Andrew Vollert chipped in with five receptions for 87 yards.
Weber plays at Portland State next week. EWU is at UND.
Logan Stanley is the managing editor at The Easterner, the Eastern Washington student newspaper. Photos courtesy of Eastern Washington athletics. All Rights Reserved.