OGDEN — Weird things happen when Weber State and Southern Utah get together in Big Sky Conference play.
Take Saturday night, when the 16th-ranked Wildcats hosted the 3-2 Thunderbirds at Stewart Stadium.
A targeting call was rescinded after a review from the Big Sky officiating booth. There were two interceptions, including a 13-yard pick-six by a defensive lineman, and even a 100-yard kick return TD.
And that was just the first half, when SUU hit Weber State quarterback Stefan Cantwell into the NCAA-mandated concussion protocol and took a 20-13 halftime lead.
Patrick Tyler threw for 276 yards and three touchdowns, and Parker Logan caught six passes for 118 yards and two scores as Southern Utah handed the Wildcats their first loss in Big Sky play, 32-16 Saturday night at Stewart Stadium.
“We came in here and knew it would be a battle,” said Tyler, who completed 20 of 30 passes. “We knew we were still fighting for the Big Sky, and this was a huge win. It was great defense, we had an excellent week of practice, and it showed tonight.
“We knew how much this game meant for Cedar City, for southern Utah, and it’s great to get that win.”
Cantwell, who completed 7 of 13 passes for 113 yards, did not play after leaving with concussion-like symptoms before halftime. The former Bingham High state champion exited the game with a 13-13 tie, and the Wildcats scored just three points over the final 2½ quarters in his absence.
“We’ve got a great defense. When they get rolling, it’s a scary sight out there,” SUU coach Demario Warren said. “They really had it going today; Weber kept going at it tonight, but they stood up in the red zone … and they really locked in on the situation.”
Former West Jordan standout Chinedu Ahanonu led SUU (4-2, 2-0 Big Sky) with 13 tackles, including 1.5 tackles for loss, and former Desert Hills standout Mike Needham added 11 tackles and two tackles for loss.
“I know everyone has been hyping up this (rivalry game) the last couple of years. But for me, it’s always been intense,” Ahanonu said. “It’s two big teams coming together for a trophy, and for me, it’s always been a big game.
“There are a lot of recruiting battles and a lot of intensity put into it. It’s for community, for school, and for all things going for us.”
Cantwell’s backups, Justin Shaw and redshirt freshman Braden Miles, combined for 53 yards through the air in relief. Each completed four passes, with Shaw going 4 of 12 for 33 yards and two interceptions.
Almost from the moment Cantwell exited, the Wildcats looked like a different team on offense. First backup Shaw missed on his first five passes, with the only non-dropped ball going to SUU defensive lineman Chance Bearnson for a 13-yard pick-six en route to a 20-13 halftime lead.
“We didn’t make the playoffs last year, which is always one of our goals. We’ve just got to prepare every single day,” Warren said. “We’ve won four of the last five, and we’ve just got to get better every single week.
“We’re not worried just about Weber, but about winning the Big Sky and making the playoffs. That’s what our mantra is.”
SUU opened the scoring on the second play of the game. Tyler connected with Parker for a 78-yard touchdown, and the Thunderbirds took a 7-0 lead just 34 seconds into the game.
Weber State kicker Trey Tuttle notched a pair of field goals at 37 and 39 yards to pull the Wildcats within one, 7-6. But the Thunderbirds responded.
Jay Green tiptoed the Weber State sideline 36 yards, and Tyler finished off the six-play, 78-yard drive with a 19-yard TD toss to former BYU quarterback McCoy Hill for a 13-6 advantage with 9:20 left in the first half.
Rashid Shaheed gave the Wildcats (4-2, 2-1) hope on the ensuing kickoff, cruising from end zone to end zone past the SUU special teams unit for the eighth 100-yard kick return in Weber State history with 9:06 left in the half.
But the flash was over once Cantwell went down with concussion-like symptoms shortly after a targeting call against SUU that was overturned by the Big Sky officiating replay booth.
The visitors held Weber State to 70 yards of offense and three points in a third quarter in which both backup quarterbacks combined for 46 passing yards.
Manny Berz's 37-yard field goal with 7:45 left in the fourth quarter doubled the Thunderbirds' advantage, 32-16 — a lead that proved to be insurmountable given an SUU defense that held its Beehive Bowl rival to 84 rushing yards.
“After what happened last year, we wanted to make sure (to get the win) and we did that tonight,” Tyler said. “The defense was awesome; they got turnovers and more. Even when we got some three-and-outs, they were awesome. It was a great team win.”
The Thunderbirds avenged last year’s loss in Cedar City, when the Wildcats erased a three-touchdown deficit in the final eight minutes, 54 seconds to stun the Thunderbirds.
But turnabout is fair play in rivalry games.
“It’s a great win tonight. But we’re going to continue the 8:54 and finish the game for the rest of the season,” Needham said. “I think we kept remembering last year; the whole game, being so excited to be up so many points, and everyone was really pumped up and amped up.
“I think in the first half, we were locked in and executed. We knew that to finish the game, we had to do the opposite of last year: finish the game and execute.”
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