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So. Utah knocks off Weber State

T-Birds’ ground game outperforms ‘Cats’ pass attack

SHARE So. Utah knocks off Weber State

CEDAR CITY — While Utah and Utah State battled for bragging rights, Saturday's other game pitting in-state programs attempted to solve an age-old question.

Which offensive approach is better, one favoring the ground or one that prefers to pass?

Though no definitive answer was produced — the winning touchdown came on a 93-yard kickoff return — chalk one up for the land lovers. Southern Utah rushed for 400 yards in its 28-21 win over Weber State before a packed house of 9,014 at Eccles Coliseum.

"If we don't get 400 yards rushing, it's a bad day for us," said Rod Madsen, who rushed for 181 yards and three touchdowns for the Thunderbirds. "They were giving us the ground game, because that's the way our offense is set up. It's pretty tough to stop."

Even with a new quarterback running the attack. Sophomore Chuck Henderson, who has taken over for graduated All-American Matt Cannon, had 188 yards in his debut.

Weber State's new starter, junior Tyler Gladwell, also had an impressive first game. He completed 27 passes for 357 yards. The 'Cats, however, would have liked such success in other areas as well.

"I was disappointed that we could not run better," said Weber State coach Jerry Graybeal, who was especially frustrated by his team's performance in the red zone. "We try to achieve balance."

Consistency, Graybeal added, is also sought on special teams — where one mistake proved costly.

Adrian Waddy's 93-yard kickoff return with 10:27 to play in the third quarter broke a tie and gave the Thunderbirds the lead for good. Defensive back Jerry Cowan later preserved the victory by intercepting a pass in the end zone with 3:28 to go as Southern Utah held on to defeat Weber State for the second straight time.

"We had some mental letdowns, and that was the problem for us," said Weber State running back Johnnie Gray III, who accounted for all but two of his team's rushing yards. "It was two good teams going head-to-head, and it came down to the last straw."

Before Waddy's decisive scamper, the teams exchanged touchdowns in the third quarter.

Madsen gave Southern Utah a 21-14 advantage with a 54-yard run before Weber Satte countered on a 26-yard touchdown pass from Tyler Gladwell to Damon Greenberry less than three minutes later.

In the first half, the contrasting styles played to a 14-14 standstill. And though each team had 13 first downs, that's where the similarities ended. All but three of Weber State's 233 yards came via the air, while Southern Utah's offense consisted of 246 yards rushing and just eight passing.

The Wildcats pleaded their case for air superiority early in the first quarter. Weber State scored touchdowns in its first two possessions as Gladwell completed eight passes, including a 25-yard scoring strike to Gray less than two minutes into the contest.

Southern Utah wasn't as fortunate in its initial offensive set. The Thunderbirds turned the ball over on the Weber State 18 when linebacker Matt McFadden recovered a fumble.

Gladwell then marched the Wildcats downfield on nine plays. The pass-oriented series ended with a 4-yard touchdown run by Gray.

Trailing 14-0, Southern Utah eventually got even as Henderson rambled his way to 166 yards rushing. Madsen, who contributed 77, capped a pair of scoring drives with touchdown runs of 8 and 2 yards in the first quarter.

Both teams return to action next week at home. Weber State hosts Montana State in its Big Sky Conference opener, while Southern Utah faces Mesa State.

E-mail: dirk@desnews.com