Beth Schlanker, Associated Press
OGDEN — They looked sloppy, out of sync and on their way to a loss on a snow-packed field.
But Tim Toone saved the day for the Weber State Wildcats — and their slim playoff hopes — with an electrifying punt return for a score.
Down by three midway through the third quarter, Toone caught a punt at the Wildcats' 10-yard line. He made one move to open up a lane, picked up some big blocks and returned it 90 yards for a touchdown. The return gave Weber State a lead it wouldn't relinquish, and it went on to beat Northern Arizona 27-9 on a frigid Saturday afternoon.
"I made one move and it opened up again," Toone said. "I was running, everyone was blocking. I thought I was going to get hit from behind but no one from their team was really trailing. I was just trying to make something happen."
Toone certainly did that, and he helped the Wildcats close their Big Sky season with a 6-2 record. They'll finish their 2009 campaign with a nonconference game against Cal Poly next week unless they receive an at-large bid into the FCS playoffs. Weber State clinched its second straight winning season for the first time since 1997-98.
Without yet another big play from Toone, the school's all-time leader in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns, none of that may have been possible for the Wildcats.
Weber State trailed NAU 9-6 after its offense had stalled for almost two full quarters. The Wildcats kicked field goals on their first two possessions, but then punted twice, were intercepted and had a bad snap on an attempted punt to give the Lumberjacks the ball at Weber State's 5.
Toone's punt return gave the Wildcats a 13-9 lead and all of the game's momentum.
"That was huge," said Wildcats quarterback Cameron Higgins. "The whole team fed off of Tim Toone's punt return. I think we had been plateauing. We were bickering, and once Tim did that we regained focus. We realized we all have the same goals."
Northern Arizona coach Jerome Souers said he felt the momentum shift after Toone's score, and he was impressed with the Weber State senior. Toone also had eight receptions for 91 yards, including a dazzling one-handed grab for 25 yards on NAU's sideline in the fourth quarter.
"I think Tim Toone was playing on a different field than the rest of us today," Souers said. "He made some great plays out there today."
The Wildcats' defense also made their share of plays. They completely shut down Northern Arizona's offense, holding it to just 235 total yards. Although they allowed the Lumberjacks to rush for 169 yards, most of them came between the 20s and they kept them out of the end zone. Nick Webb led the effort with 10 tackles, Beau Hadley had nine tackles and Kevin Linehan had eight.
"The defense played a great game," said Weber State coach Ron McBride. "They took away their passing game. They (the Lumberjacks) were kind of out of rhythm because of the weather."
Yes, the weather played a huge factor in Saturday's game. The field was completely snow packed when the game started, and workers shoveled it to make yard markers in 5-yard increments as the game progressed. Most of the first half was played in a snowstorm, making the play extremely sloppy and sometimes comical.
Attendance was listed at 4,321, but only a few hundred die-hard fans were at the game.
Weber State's offense adjusted to the weather and made enough plays to put the game away in the fourth quarter. Tight end Tyrell Francisco, who entered the game with one touchdown reception, caught two scores in the fourth quarter. One touchdown pass came from Higgins and one came from Mike Hoke.
"It's always nice to get the ball, but shoot, two touchdowns? I couldn't have called that," Francisco said. "I was just doing my job pretty much. On the second one I managed to just slip open. On the first one, I turned and saw no one in front of me and I was like, 'oh no, start running, man.' "
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