The question was lobbed toward Weber State coach Jay Hill and two of his star players after last weekend’s FCS first-round playoff game, regarding whether the Wildcats’ advancing to a rematch with Southern Utah made the victory more meaningful.
“I’ll answer that one: Absolutely,” Hill said.
Motivation is a developing story in this in-state football rivalry, being renewed Saturday (6 p.m.) at Eccles Coliseum in Cedar City. SUU’s season theme was built around the disappointment of blowing a 22-point lead in the fourth quarter of a 2016 loss to Weber State. The Thunderbirds avenged that defeat with a 32-16 win in Ogden in October, but the Wildcats’ disclaimer is that quarterback Stefan Cantwell was injured early in the second quarter when the game was close and he was playing well.
So they’re the ones with more incentive this time, while SUU wants to fully distinguish itself as the Big Sky Conference’s premier team after sharing the championship with Weber State. Having received a first-round bye as the No. 8 seed, SUU is expecting an overflow crowd approaching 11,000 for the school’s first-ever home playoff game, with No. 1 James Madison likely awaiting the winner in the quarterfinals.
The Wildcats’ 37-36 victory in October 2016 is SUU’s only home loss over three seasons, covering Ed Lamb’s last year and Demario Warren’s two years of coaching the Thunderbirds.
This season, each team is unbeaten since SUU topped the Wildcats in mid-October. Cantwell’s injury aside, the Thunderbird offense was the catalyst of that victory. SUU produced 487 total yards, with Patrick Tyler completing 20 of 30 passes for 281 yards. In the Thunderbirds’ last regular-season game, a 48-20 defeat of playoff qualifier Northern Arizona, Tyler passed for 238 yards and Jay Green Jr. ran for 134 yards.
Weber State staged its first home playoff game last weekend, beating Western Illinois 21-19 in one of the best first-round matchups in the FCS. The Wildcat offense came through during a drive that killed the game’s last five minutes. Cantwell passed for 186 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 43 yards, accounting for the bulk of the offense’s production.
“Cantwell obviously is playing at a high level right now, and they’re mixing up their backs well,” Warren said.
Weber State at Southern Utah
At Eccles Coliseum, Cedar City
Kickoff • Saturday, 6 p.m.
Records • SUU 9-2, WSU 10-2.
TV • ESPN3. Radio • 1430 AM, 590 AM.
Series • WSU leads, 16-8.
Last meeting • SUU 32, WSU 16 (Oct. 14).
About the Wildcats • Weber State is looking to reach the FCS quarterfinals for the first time since 2008, when the field included 16 teams. … The road team has won 6 of the last 7 games in this series. … The Wildcats can break a school record with an 11th victory in a season. … Cornerback Taron Johnson, the Big Sky Conference’s defensive player of the year, has been invited to the Senior Bowl.
About the Thunderbirds • Southern Utah is in the FCS playoffs for the third time in five seasons. In each previous appearance, SUU lost at Sam Houston State in the first round. … Demario Warren is 15-7 in his second season and is the Big Sky co-coach of the year, sharing the honor with former Weber State coach Jody Sears of Sacramento State. … The Thunderbirds have not lost since Sept. 23, when they fell 54-27 at Sac State.