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Heartbreak in Bozeman: Wildcats' season ends in close loss to Montana State

Weber State running back Dontae McMillan (28) runs the ball in a 2nd round playoff game that the Wildcats lost to Montana State 33-25 on Dec. 3, 2022.

Weber State running back Dontae McMillan (28) runs the ball in a 2nd round playoff game that the Wildcats lost to Montana State 33-25 on Dec. 3, 2022. (Robert Casey, Weber State Athletics)


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OGDEN — Weber State salivated at the opportunity to take on No. 4 seeded Montana State and the lauded run game led by quarterback Tommy Mellott.

The Wildcats' defense thought they had a game plan for limiting Mellott despite the slippery field that caused so many problems in the previous matchup. What they didn't seem prepared for was Sean Chambers.

For most of the season the Bobcats listed Chambers as QB2 on their roster, a guy who would occasionally spell Mellott when he needed a breather during games. But in a pivotal playoff game, Montana State used both quarterbacks as a two-headed monster, throwing wrenches into Weber State's defensive plans.

The two quarterbacks combined for 250 rushing yards to go along with 166 passing yards between them. But, surprisingly, the nail in the coffin didn't come until the Bobcats' final drive of the game.

After Weber State scored on a 6-yard touchdown pass from backup Kylan Weisser to tight end Hayden Meacham to make it a 33-25 game in favor of the Bobcats, the Wildcats needed one more defensive stop to give their offense a chance to tie the game up and try to force overtime.

Starting from their own 25-yard line, Montana State ran the ball eight straight times, seven from Chambers and once from Mellott. The Bobcats drove down the field with ease and made it into the red zone before eventually entering victory formation. The Weber State defense had no answer, as Chambers, in particular, often dragged multiple defenders with him for extra yards each play, and all hopes of getting the ball back vanished.

"We should have played it (Montana State's run game) better than we did the first time, and we didn't," head coach Jay Hill said. "We — myself, I hold myself most accountable — we should have had something better for the players to stop that run game."

The first half of this game was a stark contrast to the first time the two teams met up in Week 8 of the regular season. The first matchup was a sloppier mess, more from the Weber State side as they had four safeties, six total fumbles (safeties included) and had sloppy tackling all around.

While tackling on such a slick, cold field was still an issue in Saturday's game, the teams played much cleaner overall. Montana State's offense continued what it does best by pounding the ball down the throat of the defense and forcing them to make a stop. While Mellott ran for less in this game than he did in the previous one, he still accumulated 158 rushing yards on 22 carries with a long of 32 yards.

Weber State's defense performed better Saturday. In the first half, the Bobcats were forced to kick three field goals as opposed to just their one touchdown on a 10-yard run by Chambers. But the Wildcats' defense didn't force a Bobcats punt until midway through the fourth quarter.

Hill's team got on the board first in the game when the opening drive ended with a 39-yard field goal by Kyle Thompson. After the Bobcats answered with a touchdown and another field goal to make it a 10-point lead, the Wildcats fought to tie things up midway through the second quarter on a 16-yard pass from quarterback Bronson Barron to receiver Ty MacPherson.

Weber State ended up surrendering a couple more field goals and went into halftime trailing 16-10, but things took a turn for the worse coming out of the break.

Montana State received the ball to start the second half, and in the span of the entire third quarter and some change, the Bobcats' lead ballooned to 33-10. The final touchdown came on a double-reverse pass, with Chambers receiving a pitch and heaving a 47-yard pass to Willie Patterson. It seemed like the Bobcats could do whatever they wanted on offense, and the game was effectively over.

Things appeared even worse on Weber State's first play following the big Montana State touchdown. Weisser, who came in for most of the second half after starter Barron took a big hit in the third quarter and sat out the rest of the game, threw an interception. The pass bounced off the hands of receiver Hudson Schenck and a Bobcats defender before linebacker Danny Uliulakepa came down with the ball.

But Hill's team wasn't going down without a fight.

Montana State missed a 49-yard field goal, and Weisser led the Wildcats on a 68-yard scoring drive that ended on a 31-yard touchdown pass to Jon Christensen. Weber State converted a 2-point try and cut the deficit to 15.

The home team ran three straight plays on the ensuing drive, but the Wildcats defense did something it hadn't done all day: forced a Montana State punt.

With 7:33 remaining in the game, Weisser led another scoring drive, this one capped off by a 6-yard touchdown pass to tight end Meacham. Weber State had a little under five minutes to force a stop and give the offense one last try, but the duo of Mellott and Chambers struck again.

Though the end to the season didn't come in the fashion the team wanted, Hill and his players gave it their all. The team happened to come up a few plays short, again.

"You take for granted how awesome winning is," MacPherson said. "It has been a great season. I mean, the fact that we won 10 games and, especially, being a senior, that means a lot. ... Coach Hill and the rest of the coaching staff have put us in such great positions, it just makes it so much easier for us guys to go out and just play and have fun."

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