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OGDEN — All season long Weber State has been able to find some sort of magic to finish close games.
Between a Hail Mary as time expired or a big defense play, it was always there for the Wildcats. But on Saturday, the Wildcats just couldn't find that magic again and fell to Southern Illinois 34-31.
"You've got to give a ton of credit to Southern Illinois," Weber State head coach Jay Hill said. "They came in here, they fought, they clawed, they got down early.
"There were three or four times, in my opinion, that we had chances in the second half to go up two or three scores and we didn't do it. And before you know it, they took the lead in the fourth quarter."
Things looked good for Weber State early in the game as Kris Jackson got things going for the Wildcats, who were without star running back Josh Davis. Jackson rushed for a 1-yard touchdown to give the Wildcats an early 7-0 lead.
On the next drive, the Weber State defense came up big when Mitchel Maxfield pulled down an interception. Weber State capitalized on the turnover and scored again when quarterback Bronson Barron found an open Justin Malone for a 28-yard touchdown pass to go up 14-0 in the first quarter.
Weber State eventually built up a 21-7 lead in the second quarter, but the momentum started to change. The Salukis scored 17 unanswered points to take a 24-21 lead late in the third quarter.
After going down by three, the Wildcats defense responded with a huge fumble recovery that was forced by Preston Smith. Starting at first and goal, the Wildcats couldn't find the end zone and had to settle for a 28-yard field goal by Kyle Thompson to tie the ball game with 14:07 left in the game.
Southern Illinois' Nico Gualdoni, who went 4-for-4 on the day, kicked a 44-yarder to give the Salukis a 27-24 lead with 8:23 remaining in the game.
Barron led the Wildcats on another scoring drive over a three-minute period — a 77-yard drive over seven plays — to finish with a 3-yard rushing touchdown from Barron. The touchdown gave the Wildcats a 31-27 lead with 5:25 left to play in the game.
"We went down and scored late, and they responded with a heck of a drive," Hill said. "A lot of credit goes to that quarterback. He made some huge plays. We had him running for his life most of the game, and he ended up making a bunch of great plays with his feet and his arm."
On the ensuing drive, Southern Illinois marched down the field and called a timeout with 58 seconds left after the Wildcats defense put them into a fourth-down situation. But the next play, Stone Labanowitz found Branson Combs for an 8-yard toss and the go-ahead touchdown and ultimately the game.
Barron finished the game throwing for 224 yards on 16-of-29 passing. He also threw for one touchdown and two interceptions. Daniel Wright led the running backs with 91 yards and one touchdown.
Weber State ends the spring season with a 5-1 record.