Several fanbases were upset with their team’s draw on Selection Sunday last week but maybe no one had a more legitimate gripe than Weber State. After going 9-2 this year, the Wildcats still had to play in the opening round of the playoffs and they took out their frustrations on visiting North Dakota.
North Dakota got off to a fast start with a big third down sack of Weber State signal caller Bronson Barron to force a punt. Shortly after the stop, though, the Wildcats got one of their own when Winston Reid sacked Tommy Schuster for a big loss. Early on the defenses were rising to the challenge.
Barron broke through on the next possession, however, with a big pass over the middle to Jon Christensen for 46 yards. Two plays later Dantae McMillan bounced to the outside to pick up his sixth touchdown run of the season and put Weber State on top 7-0.
The Hawks made a crucial mistake on special teams after punting away for the second time when Marcus Preston ran squarely into return man Hudson Schenck and picked up a 15-yard penalty, giving the Wildcats the ball in prime field position. With the snow beginning to fall and the offense humming, the first quarter came to a close.
UND’s defense tightened up early in the second quarter and forced the Wildcats to settle for a field goal. Still, though, they trailed 10-0 and needed to find their footing on offense as they hadn’t given top receiver Bo Belquist a look yet.
Once more, however, the Hawks sputtered out at midfield and had to boot it away again. Running back Josh Davis made them pay and turned on the burners for a 30-yard sprint on the ensuing drive. With 7:28 to go until halftime, Weber State led 17-0.
Things went from bad to worse for North Dakota later in the second when WSU running back Damon Bankston broke free on a 39-yard touchdown run to extend that advantage to 24-0.
North Dakota finally caught a break, albeit an odd one, with under four minutes until halftime. It appeared as though a pass from Schuster fluttered incomplete when he git hit but the refs didn’t blow the whistle and it was ruled a fumble. Isaiah Smith scooped up the ball and ran 63 yards untouched into the end zone. The review confirmed it and finally UND had their first points.
Weber State shook it off, though, and Barron put together a 10-play drive. He connected with Hayden Meacham for a 25-yard touchdown to make it a three-possession game once again.
For as much as they were getting beat, UND refused to say die and, right before halftime, got a big play from running back Tyler Hoosman. Hoosman burst up the middle on a 72-yard scamper with just seconds to go until the break. Schuster found Jaden Norby in the end zone to cut the WSU lead to 31-14 at the break.
North Dakota carried their newfound momentum into the third quarter with a nice 68-yard kick return by Red Wilson to set the Hawks offense up well within WSU territory. Brady Stevens tacked on a field goal making it 31-17.
The Weber State offense seemingly squashed all of UND’s hopes on their next drive, however. Barron hit receiver Ty MacPherson for a big gain right after they converted on fourth and short. It was Davis that put the finishing touches on the drive with his second touchdown of the game, a two-yard bolt that pushed the lead back to 24 points.
It was about then that things got downright ugly for UND. They attempted a fake punt near midfield but it came up well short, giving the ball back to Weber State with a short field. A missed field goal by Kyle Thompson ensured the score would remain at 38-17 heading into the fourth quarter.
The Hawks put together a nice 11-play drive in the fourth to cut the Weber State lead to 38-24 but the problem was they ate over six minutes off the clock. Still needing two scores and with under 10 minutes to go, UND desperately needed a stop on defense.
In spite of Davis rumbling through the Hawks D, North Dakota got that stop when they stuffed Barron at the line on third down. Bubba Schweigert burned his first timeout to stop the clock at 6:30.
Now with a sense of urgency, UND began driving the ball down the field. Schuster and company made play after play to get back into the red zone. Once there, Schuster dropped a perfectly thrown touchdown pass to Jack Wright. With just over three minutes left, the Weber State lead was now down to just seven.
The ensuing onside kick, however, didn’t go North Dakota’s way and it was up to their defense to make a stop. With their season hanging in the balance, the Hawks forced the Wildcats into a 3rd and 11 situation but had to use up their remaining two timeouts. On the all important play, the UND defense rose up and stopped Davis at the line.
Schuster got the ball with just under two minutes to go. Reid and Maxwell Anderson, though, batted two big passes down and put the Hawks into a 4th and long. Schuster’s last gasp attempt fell incomplete and the Weber State faithful rejoiced. Despite almost letting their once-large lead slip away, the Wildcats held on to win 38-31.
North Dakota scored 14 unanswered in the fourth quarter but it wasn’t quite enough. Schuster threw for 184 yards and three touchdowns while Hoosman ran for 138 yards. Garett Maag led the receivers with 63 yards on five catches.
WSU’s offense rushed for 332 yards and four touchdowns. Davis led the way with 129 yards and two scores of his own while Bankston was right behind him with 122 yards and a touchdown. Barron completed five of his 11 pass attempts for 110 yards and a TD.
The Wildcats have earned a rematch with Big Sky foe Montana State next Saturday.