The Weber State Wildcats have huge aspirations in this most unique spring FCS college football season, and their dreams of a perfect campaign stayed alive on Saturday with a Hail Mary from midfield as time expired to beat the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks 28-23 in Ogden.
Down 23-22 with 17 seconds left after NAU had driven 96 yards for a touchdown following a Weber State fumble, the Wildcats got the ball back with the idea of trying to get in field goal range.
But, as head coach Jay Hill quipped postgame, “Ideally field goal range and kick it, but, I mean, that would have been boring. We wanted to make it more dramatic, I guess.”
On 3rd down at midfield with two seconds left, Hill called timeout and dialed up a Hail Mary play his team practices often. Quarterback Randall Johnson — who made a surprise start — lined up in the shotgun, rolled out almost 10 yards and launched the ball toward the end zone.
The throw certainly had enough distance as it descended well within the end zone, and Justin Malone came down with it for the game-winning score.
“We practice with all different types of scenarios, and I think we all believed in each other and believed in the team to get down there and just score,” Malone said, acknowledging that he didn’t even see Johnson’s throw or the ball until it started coming down.
“All I know is we practice that drill every Thursday. I went up to try to go grab the ball and came down with it. All props to Randall for throwing a perfect ball, man.”
Interjected Johnson: “That’s nothing new.”
Johnson gave credit to his offensive line for giving him enough time to get the ball off.
“They were blocking their butts off,” he said. “Just had to put it up there. We’ve got a specific way of how we run our Hail Mary, so I just got to put it up there and let playmakers make plays.”
The wild ending was the culmination of a wild final few minutes. Weber had led the entire way and was looking to stretch its advantage to double digits as it got inside the 5-yard line with just over four minutes to go.
Daniel Wright fumbled on a first down play, however, and NAU recovered it, setting up their long go-ahead drive.
“How ‘bout that one?,” Hill said while praising NAU’s performance. “In the end, what can you say? Our guys found ways to make plays when they had to.”
Moving forward, Hill said games like Saturday’s can be as much of a learning experience, if not more, than a comfortable victory. Up next for Weber is its big rivalry game with in-state conference foe Southern Utah next Saturday afternoon in Cedar City.