Sunday was a day of firsts for the state’s two FCS football programs.
The Weber State Wildcats, fresh off their season-ending 35-7 rout of Idaho State that earned them a share of the Big Sky Conference championship, will host Western Illinois in the opening round of the FCS playoffs on Saturday at Stewart Stadium. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m.
It marks the ‘Cats’ first-ever home playoff game. Weber finished the season 9-2 overall and 7-1 in the conference.
But that’s not all.
The winner of Saturday’s game will travel to Cedar City on Dec. 2 to face Southern Utah, which also clinched a share of the BSC championship after blowing out Northern Arizona 48-20 at Eccles Coliseum on Saturday.
The Thunderbirds (9-2, 7-1) are the Big Sky’s top seed by virtue of their 32-16 victory over Weber State last month in Ogden. That got SUU a No. 8 playoff seed, a first-round bye — and its first-ever home postseason game.
Western Illinois at Weber State
When • Saturday, 2 p.m
Weber State or Western Illinois at Southern Utah
When • Dec. 2, 6 p.m.
This isn’t the first Big Sky championship for the Thunderbirds, who claimed their first league title outright two years ago. But given the fact they earned the conference’s top seed on their home field might have made this one a little more special.
“That one [in 2015] was a turning point in our school history in our program, but this one feels great because we have a whole new type of group,” senior SUU linebacker Mike Needhamsaid after Saturday’s win. “We came in with 47 freshmen, didn’t really know what to expect, but with the leaders that we have we were able to get it done. Andthat’s a great feeling.”
For the Wildcats, Saturday’s win over the Bengals and earning a share of the championship is a new high-water mark in coach Jay Hill’s slow, steady rebuilding of the Weber State program. The Wildcats made the FCS playoffs last year, too, but this one will feel a whole lot different.
“We are so excited for our program and our fans to have a playoff game at home,” Hill said after Saturday’s victory. “Western Illinois is a great team coming in and it will be a heck of a matchup. We are so excited to play in front of our crowd on Saturday.”
Both of SUU and Weber are in the same bracket at No. 1 FCS seed James Madison, the they will see in the quarterfinals if they win in the next two weeks.
Despite the season-ending loss to SUU, Northern Arizona also earned a playoff berth. The Lumberjacks will host San Diego on Saturday in Flagstaff.