OGDEN — It was the tale of two halves as the fourth-ranked Weber State Wildcats beat their in-state rival the Southern Utah Thunderbirds, 29-14.
Kevin Smith Jr. ran the ball for 108 yards and the defense forced four turnovers to help lead the Wildcats to victory.
“The first half was a little bit of a downer,” Wildcats head coach Jay Hill said. “The way we started the second half was awesome as we broke open a three-score lead.”
The Wildcats went up quickly on the Thunderbirds in the 2nd quarter after Rashid Shaheed rushed for a 9-yard touchdown.
After a missed field goal by Trey Tuttle, the Wildcats responded and got points of their own after Thunderbirds quarterback Chris Helbig threw a 23-yard touchdown pass to Dallin Brown to tie the game, 7-7.
Things quickly changed for the Wildcats in the second half. The defense forced three turnovers and the offense added 22 points to change the game for the Wildcats.
“I love this team,” Hill said. “You don’t have to say anything to them. They know where we're at, they know what we got to do. The senior leadership takes over; really I don’t have to say much in the locker room. It’s an impressive team if you see them behind the scenes.”
A timely interception by BJ Taufalele, which was returned 22 yards in the third quarter, turned into seven points after Kaden Jenks threw a 6-yard pass to David Ames to put the Wildcats up, 14-7.
“All the turnovers were huge, very timely in all of them; that was probably the momentum swing,” Hill said. “Eddie Heckard’s strip at the end of the game was another huge momentum swing for us. All those turnovers were big.”
Weber State got the scoring going in the fourth quarter when Adam Rodriguez rushed for a 3-yard touchdown to put the Wildcats up 20-7 early in the quarter. Rodriguez typically plays defensive end, but came into the game on offense with a special package in the fourth quarter.
“It was way fun,” Rodriguez said in all smiles. “It was like I was back in high school.”
On the Thunderbirds next drive, Marque Collins intercepted Helbig's pass. His interception would add to the second half turnaround by the Wildcats.
Kris Jackson then ran in a 1-yard touchdown to give the Wildcats a 26-7 lead.
The Thunderbirds showed some life in the second half when Helbig completed a 30 yard touchdown pass to Landen Measom to make the score, 14-26.
Heckard sealed the deal for the Wildcats late in the fourth quarter when he intercepted Helbig. Heckard also finished with nine tackles for the Wildcats defense.
“He could be one of the strongest dudes on defense,” Rodriguez said of his teammate. “He benches more than some of our linebackers; he’s just a strong dude.”
The Wildcats are home again next week as they take on the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks on Saturday afternoon at 2:00 PM.
Carra McManamon is a native of Washington State and is attending the University of Utah. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter: @curramac22