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OGDEN — For the second time in the last three weeks, Weber State put together a late game comeback against a top 5 team in the country.
And for the second time, the Wildcats came up short as they fell to the Sacramento State Hornets 33-30 on a cold and rainy day in Ogden.
Missed plays on both sides of the ball and failing to execute some key plays led to the Wildcats (7-2) defeat at the hands of the still undefeated Hornets (9-0). Though conditions weren't ideal — a steady rain kept up the entire game and temperature sat in the low 40s — the Wildcats had multiple chances to win but struggled in critical moments.
Entering the fourth quarter, Weber State trailed 23-14, but on the first play of the quarter Sacramento State scored to push the lead to 30-14. Although an entire quarter of football remained, things looked bleak for the home team looking for a nationally-ranked victory.
But the Wildcats weren't finished yet.
On the kickoff following the Hornets' touchdown, kickoff returner Abraham Williams — in his first game back from an injury — took the kick 100 yards for his third kickoff return touchdown of the year and sparked some life into the Wildcats' team.
The Wildcats only gave up a field goal the rest of the way, but the deficit was insurmountable for the offense, who struggled to keep momentum going throughout the game. But head coach Jay Hill said he was pleased with the way his team never gave up, as the outcome wasn't officially decided until the Hornets recovered a Wildcats onside kick attempt with less than 20 seconds left to play.
"I thought the guys battled all the way to the bitter end," Hill said. "We put ourselves a little bit too much behind the eight ball, which, I mean, that's hard to come back from that many points out late in the game. But I was fired up with how the guys responded and never gave up; that was a big deal."
Statistics may not paint the Weber State defense in a great light, but the reality is they stepped up in big moments. Sacramento State took a leaf out of Montana State's playbook and utilized the legs of their quarterback Asher O'Hara in the run game. After the first quarter, O'Hara had racked up 42 yards rushing on nine carries, but many of those runs turned into first downs and kept the drive alive and the Weber State defense on their toes.
But as the game went on, the defense did a better job of containing O'Hara and forced him to do more with his arm instead of solely relying on his legs. Early in the second quarter, the Hornets faced a fourth-and-1 situation and O'Hara kept the ball before being promptly stuffed at the line of scrimmage, which forced a turnover on downs.
In the fourth quarter, as the Wildcats looked to make a comeback, the Weber State defense made two big stops and forced Sacramento State punts. This allowed the offense a few more chances at getting the lead. The offense got going, but it was too little, too late as the Wildcats scored with 16 seconds left in the game.
Safety Desmond Williams led the way for the defense with 13 tackles on the day and linebackers Raoul Johnson and Winston Reid contributed 10 tackles each.
Quarterback Bronson Barron struggled with accuracy through the first three quarters of the game. He overthrew some balls to open receivers but didn't get much help as his receivers also dropped a fair amount of quality passes. Whether the rain affected things or not, dropped and inaccurate passes won't win a football game.
Barron finished the day with 153 yards, two touchdowns and one interception on 15-of-38 passing. The interception was a key point in the game, especially because the ball was perfectly thrown and hit receiver Josh Sharp in the hands; however, Sharp bobbled the ball and it was instead picked off by Sacramento State cornerback Patrick Dean. The pick came past the midway point of the third quarter and turned into a touchdown for the Hornets.
"We had opportunities in the throw game, some dropped balls," Hill said. "And we had our chances in all three phases to really affect the game and change the game and take momentum when we had it. ... I've got to do a better job getting players in positions to make plays when it's elements or against great teams or whatever, but give Sac State credit. They're a good football team and they came in here and won."
As the regular season winds down, Weber State has endured the toughest part. They missed their chance to knock off the undefeated power but are still in position for success the rest of the year. The Wildcats' two losses have come by a combined eight points and have shown they can hang with anyone. The losses have been disappointing but Hill knows what his team is capable of as they move past this tough one against Sacramento State.
"We dug a hole to a good football team we played and they made a few more plays than us," Hill said. "We've got to find a way to pull those out. I mean, that's two close games against very good football teams that we could easily be sitting here 9-0, and if you don't pull them out you're sitting here 7-2 or 6-2, whatever it is, but that's reality.
"And so you go back to the drawing board, you don't make stuff up and you go find a way to win this week."