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Weber State football: WSU’s Epperson does it all in loss to Cougars

Punter fills the stat sheet on defense, special teams

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PROVO — Whenever the punter emerges as your football team's player of the game, well, you've gotta figure it probably wasn't a very good day.

And for Weber State, it definitely wasn't.

The Wildcats ventured into BYU territory on Saturday afternoon for the first time since 1979, and the Cougars administered the predictable result: a 45-13 beating of the undermanned Big Sky Conference school, who was facing its second straight Football Bowl Subdivision opponent to start the 2012 season.

And although the 'Cats got manhandled by the Cougars, Weber State punter/safety Tony Epperson enjoyed an outstanding, player-of-the-game-type performance.

The 6-foot-4, 220-pound junior from Park City boomed seven first-half punts and kicked 10 in all for an average of 50-plus yards, even though he had to scramble and kick one of them left-footed while avoiding a fierce BYU rush.

"I have never kicked a ball left-footed in my life," Epperson said. "I just decided that's all I could do right there."

Thanks to a monstrous 74-yard bomb, he averaged over 63 yards on his first four punts and wound up averaging 50.7 yards per kick, the fourth-best punting performance in school history.

"He turned the field over for us I don't know how many times," WSU interim head coach Jody Sears said of Epperson. "He averaged 50 yards a kick; that's huge. I was really happy with that. He's got a big leg now."

What's more, Epperson — who's also a starting safety for the Wildcats — recovered a Cougar fumble deep in Weber State territory to thwart a first-quarter BYU scoring drive. Then late in the first half, he picked off a BYU pass to help keep the Cougars off the scoreboard again. He also had a team-leading 10 tackles to his credit, including seven in the first half, and finished with five unassisted stops.

Asked if he'd ever had such a tremendous all-around game, Epperson responded: "Never in my life.

"It was an interesting game," he said. "I felt good punting, they did a good job of blocking for me on most of the punts. Defense just came with preparation, I felt good, I was confident. Everybody did their assignments and allowed me to put myself in a position to make plays."

Weber State did a decent job running the ball, as running backs C.J. Tuckett, Josh Booker and Kris Parham combined for 159 yards on 27 carries.

Tuckett finished with 80 yards on 12 carries, and Booker had 65 yards on 10 carries, including a 1-yard touchdown plunge in the third quarter.

"They're good; they're a great defense," said Tuckett, the great nephew of longtime BYU athletic director and baseball coach Glen Tuckett. "They run around and fly to the ball and make plays. It was a lot of fun and a great opportunity to run the ball against them. ... Our offensive line was definitely undersized but they blocked their hearts out.

"We got embarrassed last week in the run game (against Fresno State). We make it a point as a running corps to come out and give everything you've got, and we were able to make some plays and make some improvements from last week. And hopefully we're able to carry that momentum on to next week."

But while Weber's rushing attack did its job for the most part, the Cougars' defense hounded WSU quarterback Mike Hoke all day long, as he managed 13-of-26 completions for just 91 yards and was sacked six times for minus-55 yards.

"They play a lot of zone and they're very disciplined in their zone," Sears said. "You couple that with a good, strong pass rush and you're going to get sacks and you're going to get pressure on that quarterback. ...

"You've got to tip your hat to those guys. They're big up front and they've got some good athletes and good pass-rushers.

"He's calloused for contact now," Sears said of Hoke. "He's ready to go the rest of the year, right? We've got to make sure we do a good job of protecting him. He can't take that many shots and expect to get through the whole season. But he's a big strong man now."

And while the Wildcats fell to 0-2 on the young season, things will get a little bit easier from here on out with these back-to-back games against FBS teams behind them now.

"We can't dwell on the past," Epperson said. "There's nothing we can do about what happened at Fresno, there's nothing we can do about what happened out there today.

"We've got to go in there, watch film, and make our corrections. Now we're back to playing (FCS) teams and now it's just business as usual. ... We're just looking ahead to McNeese State next week and just getting ready for them now."

email: rhollis@desnews.com