Ogden • After a week away from the gridiron, thanks to a third-seed in the FCS playoff bracket and a bye past the first round, Weber State returned to work against Kennesaw State on Saturday.
The visiting Owls presented an immediate problem, however, in that the Wildcats couldn’t get Kennesaw’s offense off the field in the first half. And, barring any major mistake, the Owls seemed destined to control the game straight to the end.
But one botched play was indeed converted into a touchdown, and that’s just the kind of cure Weber State needed.
An errant pitch on Kennesaw’s first possession in the second half was picked up by Weber defensive end Adam Rodriguez and run in for a touchdown. That gave the Wildcats a scant 19-17 lead with 13:32 left in the third.
Weber State (10-3) then momentarily caught fire on both sides of the ball and used that surge to end up grabbing a 26-20 victory to advance into the national quarterfinal round.
“Really, that’s what changed the game. You had two teams going at it, playing extremely hard,” Owls coach Brian Bohannon said. “It’s just one of those games. They were just able to make some plays there in the third quarter.”
Owls sophomore quarterback Jonathan Murphy ran for 98 yards in the first two quarters and even threw the first touchdown pass of his career, a 10-yard toss to TJ Reed, to give Kennesaw a 17-9 advantage 5:01 before intermission.
But the Wildcats were keeping pace at least enough.
A 21-yard pass from Jake Constantine to Devon Cooley started the scoring for Weber. The ‘Cats had two 100-yard pass receivers on the day: Cooley, with 114, and David Ames with 105 yards.
Weber State, which will play Big Sky rival Montana in the quarterfinal round next week, eventually trimmed the deficit with a Trey Tuttle 45-yard field goal with only :59 left in the second quarter — and then got the big play it needed right out of the gate to start the third. On an option pitch to the right, Murphy tossed the ball behind running back Bronson Rechsteiner, who momentarily seemed to fall on it at the Owls’ 24. But the ball popped loose and Rodriguez, a senior defensive end, grabbed it on a bounce and ran in for a touchdown.
“It was amazing. Life changing,” said Wildcats linebacker Conner Mortensen of Rodriguez’ scoop-and-score.
Kennesaw, on its heels for the next offensive possession, was quickly forced into a punt. The Wildcats, very much in possession of momentum and the ball, then drove 69 yards in six plays and finished with a 2-yard run by Josh Davis for a 26-17 lead.
“Obviously, the play by Adam was huge,” Weber State coach Jay Hill said. “Bottom line, when you get like that, you get them on eggshells a little bit, where in the first half we were on eggshells.”
In the first half, Kennesaw had only one possession where the offense did not move the ball down the field and score. And that was when the Owls chose to take a knee just before half in their own end of the field.
Nathan Robertson kicked a 37-yard field goal midway through the fourth period to cut the Weber lead down to six as Kennesaw started recovering from the momentum turn.
But the Wildcats, shut down offensively themselves in the last part of the ballgame, also did not allow the Owls to cross midfield in the visitors’ final two possessions and effectively ended the game when Rodriguez sacked Murphy at the 18-yard line with 1:53 left to play.
As for Montana, which beat Weber State 35-16 three weeks ago?
“I shouldn’t have to say a word to them, with how poorly we played up there a couple of weeks ago,” Hill said. “They know what’s at stake, they know what’s on the line.”