The Weber State Wildcats were locked in during the first quarter of their 37-21 loss to Utah at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday night.

They played with plenty of intensity and excitement. And after one quarter, they were tied 7-7 with the 17th-ranked team in the Football Bowl Subdivision, a higher class of football than the Football Championship Subdivision in which the Wildcats reside.

Weber State's impressive start, the players say, was mostly due to an emotional pregame speech delivered by coach Ron McBride. It was McBride's first official visit to Rice-Eccles Stadium since he was fired as Utah's coach at the end of the 2002 season.

Before Utah honored him with a pregame tribute, McBride let his current players know how badly he wanted to win Saturday's game.

"He told us that if there's any game he could win in any time of his career, this would be it," said Wildcats receiver Cody Nakamura. "When your coach says that to you, you really want to do it for him. The whole team was hyped up. Everyone wanted to do it for Coach Mac."

"It was emotional, man," said Weber State quarterback Cameron Higgins. "We were crying, He was crying. It was good to see him share those kinds of feelings about his team, and how he cares about us. It makes us want to play for him even more."

A couple of failed opportunities prevented the Wildcats from truly getting the Utes on their heels in the first quarter. On their first drive, Higgins bought some time on a third-and-6 from Utah's 19. He threw an off-balance pass to receiver Bryant Eteuati, who was open in the end zone. Higgins' pass was a tad overthrown, and Eteuati caught it just inches out of bounds.

On Weber State's next play, Jon Williams missed a 36-yard field goal.

The Wildcats came back on their next possession and tied the game. Higgins threw a 35-yard touchdown pass to Tim Toone with less than a minute remaining in the first quarter.

"There's a lot of lessons learned by our team," Higgins said. "We could play with these guys, and they have the No. 3 defense in the nation. I thought we did well. I thought we held our own for a bit. It wasn't a blowout."

The Utes, however, took control of the game on both sides of the ball in the second quarter. Their superior speed forced the Wildcats into mistakes on offense. Their running backs averaged 4.6 yards per carry against Weber State and gained a total of 180 yards. Utah ran off 30 consecutive points to put the game away.

Still, the mood was pleasant in Weber State's locker room following Saturday's game. The Wildcats felt like they had a good showing in front of the largest crowd they'll see all season. And when they fell behind by 30, they didn't quit.

"I'm sure people are disappointed," Nakamura said. "They're a good team. We made some mistakes that you can't make against ranked teams, especially in (FBS). We're all still happy we left it on the field. We didn't stop, we didn't quit, we played our hardest. We're happy, but we're still disappointed."

Higgins completed 24-of-38 passes for 303 yards and three touchdowns. Eteuati was his top target, as he had six receptions for 70 yards.

McBride said he wasn't leaving his former home stadium with a moral victory.

"Bottom line, you either win or you lose," he said. "I'm proud of the way they played especially in the fourth quarter. But I'm not happy we lost. We came here to win. We didn't come here to mess around."


E-mail: aaragon@desnews.com