I'm extremely disappointed with all of the penalties. It's not good enough. I love the heart and I love the passion, but we've got to be smarter and have some self-control. —Weber State head coach Jody Sears
OGDEN — After two months full of long and tiring road trips, grueling competition and nationally ranked opponents, Weber State (1-9) hoped coming home to face in-state rival SUU (7-3) would help. This one, at least, was competitive, but unfortunately for the struggling Wildcats, the result was the same.
Out of the two total wins it had last year, Weber State managed to pick one of them up against the Thunderbirds in Dixie. This season, despite their great start and early lead, the Wildcats didn't have what it took and fell to the Thunderbirds, 27-21.
"I'm extremely disappointed with all of the penalties," said Weber State head coach Jody Sears of the Wildcats' 11 penalties. "It's not good enough. I love the heart and I love the passion, but we've got to be smarter and have some self-control."
The Wildcats jumped out to an enthusiastic start and drew first blood when true freshman quarterback Austin Chipoletti fired a 31-yard touchdown pass to fellow freshman wide-out Cameron Livingston in the back of the end zone to put the home team up 7-0.
Chipoletti, minus a few freshman mistakes, had one of the best games of his young career. Chipoletti completed 29 of his 46 passes for 263 yards and three touchdowns to lead the purple and white.
"He completed about 60 percent of his passes," Sears said. "I am extremely pleased with how he is progressing. Extremely pleased."
WSU's swarming defense, led by junior cornerback Deon'tae Florence, was especially impactful, particularly in the first half, and kept the Wildcats in the game. Florence came up with a diving interception on the sideline midway through the second quarter to stop a Southern Utah drive and the momentum.
"I just saw the ball in the air and saw an opportunity," said Florence. "I let my team down on the first one, so I just tried to lock it in."
Just before the end of the first half, however, the Thunderbirds went into their two-minute drill, charged downfield and were able to get up on the board. Griff NcNabb hauled in a 28-yard pass from Mike Sharp and Levi Teo punched in a one-yard rushing touchdown to tie the game at seven apiece with just 22 seconds left.
As the second half opened up, Weber State's lead began to unravel. SUU took advantage of the ’Cats miscues and capitalized on their turnovers, totally changing the momentum of the game.
Weber State only had the ball three times in the third quarter, and in those three possessions it had two turnovers and a punt. Chipoletti's interception led to a one-yard touchdown run by Sharp, and wide-out Shaydon Kehano's fumble in SUU territory led to a 23-yard field goal that put the Thunderbirds up 17-7 after three quarters of play.
"They started building themselves a little momentum and they kept on swinging," Florence said. "They started progressing and we started slipping here and there, turning the ball over. We stood strong in the first half, but they took advantage every time we slipped. We've got to give credit to them."
Despite making some noise and putting 14 points up on the board in the fourth quarter, the Wildcats couldn't quite make up for their costly penalties and turnovers to pull off the upset. The game ended with the Thunderbirds going on a 24-14 run and leaving Ogden with a 27-21 road victory.
"I was extremely happy with how we finished. There is no question about the things we did good and improved on," Sears added. "We've just got to continue to build on them and stay the course. We've just got to stay committed and dedicated to winning every day."
With the loss, the Wildcats drop to 1-9 on the year and 0-6 in Big Sky play. With the win, the Thunderbirds improve to 7-3 overall, 4-2 in conference play and clinch their third winning season in the last four years.
Weber State will next travel to Missoula to take on the No. 10 Montana Grizzlies at noon Nov. 16 at Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
Ryan Love is a full-time student at the University of Utah studying communications and has been a part-time sports reporter and scoreboarder for the Deseret News since October 2012.
Follow him on Twitter @RLove7724