OGDEN — To look at most of the final numbers from Friday's Weber State-Cal Poly football matchup, you might think the Wildcats finally came up with their first victory of the season.
After all, Weber State piled up a season-best 528 yards in total offense compared to just 345 for the visitors, and the Wildcats had 11 more first downs than the Mustangs with a season-high 29, plus much more time of possession. What's more, WSU quarterback Mike Hoke threw for 291 yards and a touchdown, and C.J. Tuckett led a rushing attack that netted 237 yards on the ground. Those yardage numbers were both season-highs for Weber State, too.
Heck, the Wildcats, who have often been a turnover machine this season, had only one giveaway this time.
But when it's all said and done, the only numbers that really matter are the big ones you can still see on the scoreboard at the end of the game, and those read: Cal Poly 45, Weber State 23.
"Stats are stats," said WSU interim head coach Jody Sears. "They're kind of like feelings — you know, how do you feel? There's no feelings in football. Yeah, stats are awesome; they're great, but what's the bottom line? What's the final score? That's where the truth lies."
And season records certainly don't lie, either. The loss drops the winless Wildcats to 0-6 overall, 0-3 in the Big Sky, while unbeaten Cal Poly, ranked in the top 20 in last week's Football Championship Subdivision polls, improved to 5-0 and 3-0 in its stellar first season as a league member.
The Mustangs, normally a ground-oriented option offense, got three touchdown passes from quarterback Andre Broadous — a 30-yard catch and carry by slotback Kristaan Ivory, an 8-yard TD toss to fullback Brandon Howe and a 34-yarder to wide receiver Willie Tucker. Ivory also had a 5-yard scoring scamper and Howe went 37 yards for the final Cal Poly score midway through the fourth quarter.
But the Wildcats, who scored their first first-quarter points of the season to lead 6-0 on a pair of first-quarter field goals by Shaun McClain — the first time they've been ahead in a game all season long. They also led 13-7 and again at 20-14, only to see Cal Poly come up with a crucial third-quarter play that proved to be the turning point in the game.
With the Mustangs leading 21-20, Weber State was driving for a possible go-ahead score when Hoke, scrambling out of the pocket, got hit just as he was trying to throw the ball away. It popped right into the hands of big defensive lineman Barrett Wangara, who lumbered 58 yards for the touchdown that put Cal Poly ahead 28-20.
"I was just trying to throw it away, but I should've just taken the sack on that," Hoke said. "It's kind of the story of every game pretty much. We're kind of in 'em or start to get in 'em, and then it goes away.
"I think this game we did pretty well with guys staying motivated and still encouraging everybody and all that good stuff. So it wasn't as down as it probably was in previous games, I think. Everyone kind of stayed positive."
Still, that score seemed to take the wind out of the Wildcats' sails, as they were outscored 31-3 over the last quarter and half of play.
"That turnover killed us, huh?" Sears said. "That's the most glaring thing. You get a turnover and they score out of it, it's almost like a double-possession."
"It's definitely frustrating," said Tuckett, a senior running back. "... Football's a game of momentum, and you've got to try and stay up when things are down. ... We weren't playing to lose today; we were trying to win. ... The sad thing is in football, you make too many mistakes, you can't win."
Coach Sears, still searching for his first win as a head coach, saw plenty of positives as he continues to try and keep his players' heads high.
"For three quarters, we're in it," he said. "I'm proud of the way the guys started the game. They came out and they executed — great attitude, great energy, had some confidence, made some plays, got some confidence, went down and put some points on the board. So that was encouraging.
"We've just got to take these little, small victories and keep building on 'em," the Wildcats' coach said. "We're not going to make excuses for that fourth quarter, we're not going to cry and whine about it and kick rocks and, you know, woe is me. We've got to take these little, small victories and build on it and keep moving forward."
GAME NOTES: Weber State junior linebacker Anthony Morales recorded a career-high 17 tackles, and McClain's 46-yard field goal was a career-long kick. ... To add to the Wildcats' woes, junior safety/punter Tony Epperson, who led the nation in punting coming into the game with an average of 48 yards per kick, tore the MCL in his right knee in the third quarter and will be sidelined for 4-6 weeks.
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company