A quick start was no guarantee for fourth-ranked Idaho during its Big Sky Conference game Saturday in Ogden, Utah.
Host Weber State, which has underperformed this year (5-5 overall, 3-4 Big Sky) came back from a 10-0 early deficit to take a 14-13 lead at halftime.
The Vandals (7-3, 5-2) gave themselves a chance near the end of the game when Hayden Hatten caught a 3-yard touchdown with 12 seconds remaining and Gevani McCoy found Jake Cox with a 2-point conversion pass.
After that, Idaho trailed 31-29 after playing from behind for the entire fourth quarter, but Wildcats cornerback Maxwell Anderson secured Idaho’s onside kick, allowing freshman quarterback Richie Munoz to take a knee and run out the clock.
The Vandals are sure to drop in the polls and out of the Big Sky race. Their coach, Jason Eck, was philosophical about where his team finds itself in his second season at Idaho.
“This is just feedback that we’re not quite there yet,” Eck said. “I was hoping we could be a conference championship team, but we’re not there yet.”
Eck said the Wildcats “outexecuted us in all three phases: offense, defense and special teams.” Weber State managed to overcome Idaho’s big plays just often enough.
Eck pointed particularly to a couple of plays.
The Wildcats recovered Nick Romano’s fumble to set up a 43-yard touchdown drive that gave them a 21-13 third-quarter lead. Romano atoned for that with a 4-yard touchdown run, and Idaho drew even on a 2-point conversion as Romano took a direct snap and handed off to McCoy, who dove in.
Two series later, however, Weber State’s Haze Hadley returned Ricardo Chavez’s punt 48 yards to the Vandals’ 12-yard line. On third down from there, Adrian Cormier carried for a touchdown and a 28-21 lead the Wildcats protected the rest of the way.
“That punt return was a huge play in the game,” Eck said.
Nonetheless, Idaho had its moments. After scratching out a first-quarter lead on Chavez’s 32-yard field goal, the Vandals extended their edge with a flourish early in the second period. On first-and-10 at the Wildcats’ 27, UI backup quarterback Jack Layne took a snap and fired a pass across the formation and behind him to McCoy, who threw a forward pass to Layne at the 1-yard line. From there, Romano punched it in for a touchdown and a 10-0 Vandals advantage .
“I liked the way we started today,” Eck said. “We had them where we wanted, but they got momentum.”
Idaho played without injured running back Anthony Woods, who has 872 rushing yards this season and 13 touchdowns. A banged-up McCoy was also a game-time decision.
Romano filled in for Woods with 84 yards on 22 carries with a pair of touchdowns. Eck called it “a solid game,” but added, “We can’t expect one guy to pick up the slack.”
McCoy shrugged off his injuries to complete 33 of 51 passes for 346 yards and a touchdown. Eck, though, looked at the number of passes thrown and said, “That’s not our kind of football.”
Hatten, Idaho’s career leader in numerous receiving categories, caught 14 passes for 175 yards and a touchdown.
Chavez starred for the Vandals with a pair of field goals. The second one (53 yards) tied his career long kick and had yardage to spare. After the game, Chavez said if Idaho had recovered the late-game onside kick, he would have had a chance to pull off a winning kick, and he was looking forward to it.
“Coach Eck was going to give me an opportunity to go for it,” he said.
“He was going to give me a shot, even from 60.”
But Idaho set aside the defeat when it concludes the regular season Saturday against Idaho State in Moscow, Idaho.
“Hats off to Weber State. They played a great game,” Chavez said. “(But) we can only look ahead to Idaho State. This game is past. There is nothing we can do about it no more.”