OGDEN — Weber State unloaded some heavy baggage before next week's trip to Arkansas.
Thanks to a thrilling 38-31 win over Sacramento State at Stewart Stadium, the Wildcats are no longer winless and saddled with a losing streak that dates back to last season.
It wasn't easy, however. It took a last-second defensive stand and a late touchdown by the offense to lift Weber State (1-3 overall, 1-2 in Big Sky Conference play) to its first victory since Nov. 4, 2000.
"I'm so mad right now. I'm hard to satisfy, I guess," said Weber State coach Jerry Graybeal. "Yeah, we got a win. But it's difficult for me to accept how we go about some things."
Graybeal was particularly bewildered by the game's last play when Sacramento State quarterback Ryan Leadingham completed a 36-yard pass to Gary Austin, Jr., who was tackled about one foot from the goal line as time expired.
Despite the close call, the Wildcat players rushed to midfield to celebrate.
"It's been a long time," said running back Johnnie Gray III, who led the Wildcats with a career-high 240 yards rushing and three touchdowns. "We forgot some of the words to the fight song, but it felt pretty good to be able to sing it."
Teammate Eric Lohnes, who returned an interception 29 yards for a touchdown, agreed.
"We'll take it," he said of the long-awaited win. "It was by the skin of our teeth. But, you know what, sometimes it makes it that much sweeter."
Just over a minute before the postgame gathering, Weber State scored what proved to be the winning touchdown when Tyler Gladwell teamed with Damon Greenberry on a 17-yard scoring strike.
It capped all point production in a wild contest featuring four interceptions and two lost fumbles, as well as a blocked punt and a pair of missed kicks.
Clinging to a 24-17 lead following an exchange of field goals and Lohnes' interception return, Weber State remained ahead despite a Sacramento State touchdown early in the fourth quarter because Jimmy Sanchez's PAT was wide left. The Wildcats later capitalized on the situation by adding a 5-yard touchdown run by Gray to make it 31-23 with just 5:22 left to play.
This is when Weber State's fortunes began to waver. With 2:24 remaining, Sacramento State scored on a 25-yard run by Derard Barton and followed it with a successful two-point conversion when Leadingham found Fred Amey open in the end zone.
It tied the score and set the stage for Weber State's late offensive drive and game-ending defensive stance.
Considering the contest pitted the Big Sky's two worst defenses, the first quarter was surprising. The teams played to a scoreless standstill. Defense stole the spotlight as Spencer Sigoda blocked a punt and Corey Pantuso intercepted a pass for Weber State, while Camron Mbewa pounced on a fumble in the end zone for Sacramento State.
The latter cost the Wildcats a prime scoring opportunity. Gray lost control of the ball when he was hit while extending his arms in an attempt to cross the goal line.
Redemption, however, came early in the second quarter. Gray scored the game's first touchdown on a 10-yard run with 13:07 remaining in the half. Weber State cornerback Charles Boughton set up the five-play, 42-yard drive by recovering a fumble.
The 7-0 lead, though, didn't last for long.
Sacramento State pulled even less than two minutes later after gaining favorable field position on the ensuing kickoff when Weber State was flagged for a 15-yard personal foul. A 17-yard touchdown pass from Leadingham to Michael Johnson capped the drive.
Despite the scores, it remained a defensive struggle. Nearly eight minutes passed before the tie was broken. And it took an interception to get things started. After picking off Gladwell on the Sacramento State 10, the Hornets marched downfield on 10 plays. A 6-yard touchdown run by Brett Collins gave the guests their first lead.
However, like Weber State's initial advantage, it lacked staying power.
Just 19 seconds later, Gray scampered 80 yards from scrimmage as the Wildcats erased the deficit. They had a chance to regain a lead with 1:02 to go, but Jason Zur's 34-yard field goal attempt was wide right.