Even when Weber State scored against Southern Utah for the first time in two seasons, things went wrong for the Wildcats and right for the Thunderbirds. SUU's Josh Thornton turned a blocked extra point into a two-point conversion by grabbing the ball and sprinting to the end zone in the second quarter.
At that moment, nothing suggested how abruptly this game — and the entire flavor of the rivalry — eventually would turn in Weber State's favor.
The Wildcats rallied for a 37-36 victory, scoring 23 points in the last eight minutes Saturday night at Eccles Coliseum. Thanks to Jadrian Clark's 40-yard pass to Darryl Denby and Taylor Hintze's extra point with 31 seconds remaining, Weber State (5-2) moved to 4-0 in the Big Sky Conference. The Wildcats took possession of the Beehive Bowl, the trophy awarded in Utah's only college football rivalry between league members.
"As crazy as that game was, quite frankly, I thought we did a great job of coming back and earning that win," said Weber State coach Jay Hill.
This is just the latest episode of a season when the Wildcats lost leads of 21 points at South Dakota (in a double-overtime defeat) and 22 points at UC Davis (in a last-second win), before coming from 22 points down in Cedar City.
"Awful" is Hill's enduring image of last October's game in Ogden, a 44-0 victory for SUU.
This ending? Awesome for the Wildcats, sickening for the Thunderbirds.
In the buildup to this game, Hill said something else that resonates now: "The great thing about football is last year doesn't mean anything about this year."
Hill could say the same thing about the first three quarters of Saturday's contest. The Thunderbirds were dominating again, with the Big Sky's lowest-ranked offense coming to life behind quarterback Patrick Tyler.
SUU took a 36-14 lead into the fourth quarter and even had another scoring chance early in the period, but missed a field goal. Weber State's comeback included a touchdown, a safety and two more touchdowns.
Any rally requires cooperation from the other guys, so this game will be remembered as much for the Thunderbirds' meltdown as the Wildcats' rally. SUU committed two personal fouls in the last two minutes — on offense and special teams, which takes some explanation.
The first penalty may have prevented the Thunderbirds from running out the clock. SUU recovered an onside kick after Weber State cut the lead to 36-30 with 2:21 remaining and gained one first down, but was forced to punt on the next series, following a personal foul that stopped the clock.
And then a bizarre play unfolded. The Wildcats' Chandler Tunney called for a fair catch inside his 5-yard line and muffed the ball, which went into the end zone. By rule, the play should have been whistled dead for a touchback after he picked up the ball. But while Tunney ran with the ball, SUU punter Tate Lewis was called for a personal foul.
So after everything was sorted out, the Wildcats ended up taking possession at their 35-yard line with 1:13 left. Think about that: If Tunney had caught the ball, as he intended, the Wildcats would have started at their 4 with no timeouts left.
As it was, they quickly moved into position for the winning touchdown pass. Denby got behind the SUU defenders and caught the pass in stride, completing Clark's 416-yard, four-touchdown night.
Hill, who's in his third season in Ogden, said the rivalry with SUU would really take hold only when the Wildcats started winning again — and especially if a Big Sky title ever came into play when the two teams met.
Even without that last part, consider the rivalry reborn.
As SUU coach Demario Warren said before the game, "We play for a trophy, and that thing sits in our locker room all year long if we win the game, and if we don't, it's over at the other school."
The Beehive Bowl will spend the winter in Ogden, as a symbol of something the Wildcats took away from the Thunderbirds.
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