Bottom line, you have to win the game. We did. —Jay Hill
OGDEN — The Wildcats of Weber State were all over the place Saturday afternoon at Stewart Stadium. At one time they appeared to have re-created their early season magic, jumping out to a commanding first-half lead of four touchdowns over the visiting Montana Grizzlies.
In the next moment they were completely outplayed (Montana outgained the Wildcats 316 yards to 63 in the second half, outscoring the home team by two scores), appearing all too similar to those dismal Wildcats that roundly fell to Southern Utah.
There were sequences of pure spectacle, such as when tight end Andrew Vollert threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to quarterback Stefan Cantwell, and there were others best forgotten, such as the 81-yard touchdown given up to Grizzly receiver Keenan Curran.
As far as Weber State head coach Jay Hill was concerned, however, only one thing mattered.
“Bottom line, you have to win the game,” said Hill. “We did.”
Led by quarterback Stefan Cantwell, who completed 17-of-31 passes for 197 yards and two touchdowns, Weber State defeated Montana 41-27. Cantwell also hauled in a touchdown reception, and the Wildcats' defense accounted for four of five Montana turnovers, including three interceptions and a fumble.
“We pulled off a huge win,” said Hill. “The five turnovers were huge. It was just a great team win. (Montana) is a great football team and they have proven it. This is a great team win for us.”
“There are a lot of things we can work on as a team and as an offense, but we won,” added Cantwell. “Winning is what matters.”
Indeed, this latest victory keeps the Wildcats in the running for both the conference championship and a playoff spot, a tall task in this season’s Big Sky Conference.
“If we lost this (game) it would have put us out of the running for the Big Sky,” said Jordan Preator. “We have to win to have a chance.”
At the outset it seemed fairly certain that the Wildcats would have more than just a chance. Weber State was an elite team in the first half, truly dominant in all three phases of the game.
The offense clicked early and often as Cantwell connected with a host of pass catchers, including Vollert, Drew Batchelor, TyJuan Prince and Tui Satuala. Even fullback Brady May got involved, hauling in a 22-yard reception.
Batchelor and Satuala each recorded a touchdown reception as part of the Wildcats' 34-point first-half explosion.
The defense was as good if not better, holding the high-powered Grizzlies' attack to just 142 yards passing and 45 yards rushing.
Defensive backs Preator and Xequille Harry each picked off Montana quarterback Gresch Jensen, with Harry’s pick leading to a Wildcat score.
Special teams were no slouch either, as kicker Trey Tuttle continued his stellar season with two made field goals, including a career best of 48 yards.
Even the Wildcats on kick return coverage chipped in, making perhaps the play of the game when they recovered a muffed kick at the Montana 8-yard line. That turnover led directly to Cantwell’s touchdown reception.
“Unbelievable first half,” said Hill. “I thought we played very well in all phases of the game. Offense was very efficient, defense was aggressive and special teams had the big kickoff return fumble.”
For whatever reason, the second half was an entirely different story.
“I don’t know what happened,” said Cantwell. “I am still working on that myself.”
“I don’t know if we got into conservative mode in the second half,” added Hill. “People can say I got a little conservative on defense but I knew (Montana) was running out of time. I wanted to make sure we didn’t do anything stupid to lose the game.”
The Wildcats tried, blowing multiple coverages that allowed Curran and Jerry Louie-McGee to waltz into the end zone untouched.
Ultimately, it was a clutch pick-six by Preator that sealed the deal.
“I hadn’t gotten one since the first game,” said Preator. “It felt good.”
It wasn’t an easy return for a touchdown, as Preator carried a Montana receiver on his back before stumbling over the end line.
“I knew I had to get in the end zone,” said Preator. “I had to find a hole somewhere. I tried to cut it back and realized I couldn’t go that way, so I just drug ’em in.”
“We pulled it off,” added Hill. “We just gotta get better.”