Weber State football: Wildcats lead Cal after 3 quarters, lose on late scores

Saturday , September 09, 2017 - 8:07 PM

BRANDON GARSIDE, Standard-Examiner Staff

Weber State led the California Golden Bears after three quarters, but turnovers and missed opportunities doomed the Wildcats’ chance at an upset Saturday and the Wildcats fell 33-20 at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley.

“We’ve got a tough team,” WSU head coach Jay Hill said. “Quite frankly, we very well could have pulled this one out. We didn’t. You’ve got to give Cal a ton of credit. They kept fighting and made the couple plays they needed at the end of the game and we didn’t ...

“That’s the disappointing part — we left a lot on the field.”

With the Bears leading 27-20 and less than four minutes left, Weber State drove inside Cal’s 20 on the verge of knotting the game. On second down, Kevin Smith pulled up after a handoff and threw across the field to wide-open quarterback Stefan Cantwell on a halfback pass, but the throw was off for what looked like a sure touchdown.

On fourth down, a pressured Cantwell overthrew senior tight end Andrew Vollert in the back of the end zone by inches, resulting in a turnover on downs.

Even after Cal running back Patrick Laird ran in a 73-yard touchdown with 1:48 left on the subsequent drive, Weber State didn’t quit. The Wildcats drove to Cal’s 5-yard line, but Cantwell couldn’t connect with receivers on four straight passes.

Cantwell was the driving force for Weber State. He finished the game throwing 25 of 44 for 431 yards, the 12th most single-game passing yards in school history and the most by any Wildcat against an FBS team. He also led the Wildcats in rushing with 61 yards on 20 carries.

His 492 total yards of offense is the seventh most in school history, and the most ever for a Weber State player against an FBS team.

“Stef did a lot of great things, and he had some really critical conversions on third down when he was running the ball,” Hill said. “He threw the ball well today. He looked poised ... We faltered a little bit down the stretch, there were some wide-open opportunities for us that we didn’t take advantage of.”

Freshman receiver Rashid Shaheed led all receivers with four big catches for 149 yards and a touchdown, the score a 55-yard bomb in the second quarter that tied the game 17-17.

Weber State outgained Cal 571-431 and totaled 24 first downs.

The Wildcat defense also recorded 10 tackles for loss, with senior defensive end McKay Murphy recording 3 1/2 of those.

Weber State fumbled three times in the game, the most painful coming in the fourth quarter with the score tied 20-20. Vollert hauled in a big third-down conversion near midfield but fumbled as he was brought to the ground.

Early adversity put the Wildcats in a hole. After the Bears scored a touchdown on their first drive, WSU fumbled on its first offensive play of the game to give Cal the ball on the Wildcat 32-yard line.

Instead of conceding points on a short field, the defense forced a three-and-out thanks to a pair of tackles for loss from Murphy.

Cantwell answered by showing off his arm, tossing a 52-yard pass to Darryl Denby to flip the field and put the Wildcats in scoring position. WSU couldn’t get another first down, but Trey Tuttle snuck in a 37-yard field goal to get WSU on the board.

After another defensive stand, the Wildcats again got in scoring position as Cantwell found Shaheed for a 47-yard pass to the Cal 9. Cantwell ran the ball in the rest of the way to give the Wildcats a 10-7 lead.

Cal responded with 10 straight points to retake the lead on a 39-yard field goal and a 51-yard rushing touchdown from Laird to cap a 98-yard drive.

That’s when a composed Cantwell found Shaheed on his 55-yard post route to tie the game at 17.

With 3:20 left in the half, Weber State gambled and failed on an onside kick. Cal took the ball to the WSU 8 when senior Cardon Malan stripped the ball from Cal quarterback Ross Bowers and Wildcat sophomore Jonah Williams recovered.

With less than a minute to play in the half, Weber State took the ball 35 yards to set up a 46-yard field goal for Tuttle, who nailed his try to give the Wildcats a 20-17 lead at halftime.

Neither team scored in the third quarter, but the Wildcats had an opportunity on the first drive of the period. After driving to Cal’s 14-yard line, Weber State faked a field goal, but Cantwell was stopped at the line of scrimmage to kill the drive.

The Cal offense got rolling with a field goal to tie the game and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to rally to the victory.

The Wildcats return to California next week to play usual Big Sky foe Sacramento State in a non-conference bout at 7 p.m. MDT Saturday, Sept. 16.

Contact sports reporter Brandon Garside at bgarside@standard.net, on Twitter @BrandonGarside and on Facebook.com/BrandonGarsideSE.

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