by Tyler Burgener
The 2020 college football season was a debacle that fans of many teams would like to forget. That was not the case for fans of the Weber State Wildcats. The 2020 team was regarded by many as the most talented team under head coach Jay Hill.
Freshman returned-missionary Bronson Barron won the starting quarterback position in a battle that lasted through all of fall camp with Middle Tennessee State transfer Randall Johnson.
The Wildcat offense returned nearly every other notable offensive player including Wide Receiver Rashid Shaheed and Running Back Josh Davis.
On defense, the Wildcats were led by star Linebacker Conner Mortensen and defensive end Jared Schiess. They returned what was regarded as one of the best defenses in the Big Sky Conference.
Expectations were high for this Weber State team. It started off with a bang against the Idaho State Bengals. The Wildcats dominated the game after a slow start in the first half and racked up 35 second half points in their route of the Bengals 49-21 in Pocatello.
After a delay of nearly three weeks due to a COVID-19 cancellation of their game versus Cal Poly, Weber State faced Big Sky power, UC Davis. In a game where they lost star running back Josh Davis, the Weber State offense struggled to put up points, but gritted out a win 18-13.
Quarterback Bronson Barron also broke his hand in this game, leaving passing duties to his backup, Randall Johnson.
Johnson got the start against hated rival Northern Arizona two weeks later and was it a game to remember. Weber State led the Lumberjacks for most of the game. With a late score by NAU, the Wildcats found themselves down 23-21 with under a minute left in the game.
Though Johnson had received very little reps going into this game, he led the Wildcat offense to midfield with just enough time left for a last second Hail Mary. What followed is considered one of, if not, the greatest plays in the history of Weber State Football.
After the ball was snapped, Johnson rolled to his left. He avoided the rush by the Lumberjack defense, and launched the ball toward the end zone where a slew of Wildcat receivers and NAU defenders were waiting.
Before any defenders could get their hands on the ball, it was caught by Weber State tight end Devon Cooley. The Wildcats would win the game 28-23. This is a play worth watching again as it finished as the top play of that weekend on SportsCenter.
After Johnson’s heroics, Bronson Barron returned for some heroics of his own. Just weeks after breaking his hand, Barron returned versus long-time rival Southern Utah, this time with a soft cast on this non-throwing hand.
Once again, the Wildcat offense struggled to put up points, but was buoyed by their strong defense. The offense made enough plays behind a great game from back up running back Dontae McMillan and won 19-16.
In a rare double feature, the Wildcats once again faced the Idaho State Bengals, this time in the friendly confines of Stewart Stadium. The Bengals would not go down easily this time. They gave Weber State all they could handle.
With the Wildcat offense struggling once again, the defense rose to the occasion by making plays at exactly the right time. With the game on the line, defensive back Marque Collins made the game sealing interception. Weber State would win the game 20-15 and clinched their first outright Big Sky Conference title. They finished the regular season 5-0.
As one of only a handful of undefeated teams in the FCS ranks, Weber State was considered by many as one of the teams guaranteed to clinch a top seed in the FCS playoffs.
Not so fast my friend (as Lee Corso would say). The Wildcats were not selected as one of the top four seeds in the FCS playoff in favor of Sam Houston State, South Dakota State, Jacksonville State, and FCS power North Dakota State.
Instead, Weber State was to take on the Southern Illinois Salukis. They defeated the NDSU Bison earlier in the season and gave the Bison their first regular season loss in nearly four years.
Weber State faced off with SIU and got off to a hot start leading the Salukis 21-7 going in to the second quarter. SIU would battle back ending the half down 21-17.
The Wildcat defense carried this team all season long but faced its stiffest challenge with the white-hot Southern Illinois offense. SIU would later take their first lead of the game after a fake field goal to go up 27-24.
Weber State was not done yet. Bronson Barron finished a late drive with a touchdown rush to give the Wildcats the 31-27 lead late in the game.
Luck was not on the side of Weber State this time. The Salukis would convert a late game-winning drive and win 34-31.
In a season plagued by injuries, game cancellations, and plenty of uncertainty, the Weber State Wildcats did things that had never been done in program history. Wildcat coaches, players, and fans still yearn for more as they know that their team did not live up to their full potential.
With the 2020 spring season in the rear-view, look for Weber State to take another step in the right direction under Head Coach Jay Hill.
In the next Weber State article, look for a preview of the season to come for the Wildcat football team in 2021.
Featured image courtesy Weber State Athletics