The Weber State Wildcats wanted to believe their only loss in Big Sky Conference play could be easily explained by quarterback Stefan Cantwell’s injury early in the second quarter of Southern Utah’s visit to Ogden in October.
Sounds good to me.
Nobody who watched them perform Saturday night at Eccles Coliseum could make much of a counter-argument, after Cantwell stated the Wildcats’ case in a more meaningful episode of the in-state rivalry.
The senior QB accounted for 404 yards and three touchdowns via his passing and running in the Wildcats’ 30-13 victory in the FCS playoffs in front of an SUU-record crowd of 11,811. Weber State (11-2) advances to a quarterfinal game at No. 1 seed James Madison, already having posted the program’s most wins in a season and produced both of SUU’s home losses over three years.
Label this outcome “Leave No Doubt … Undone.”
The Thunderbirds productively made a season’s theme of living with the giveaway of last year’s 37-36 loss to the Wildcats, who had trailed by 22 points in the last eight minutes in Cedar City. SUU (9-3) avenged the defeat with that 32-16 win in Ogden. But then the playoff bracket forced the Thunderbirds to prove themselves one more time against their rivals (also the Big Sky co-champions) after receiving a first-round bye.
The Wildcats delivered their own emphatic response in the rematch. In truth, they should have won even more decisively. Five of Weber State’s drives to the SUU 7-yard line or deeper – including a satisfying kneel-down sequence in the end – netted only six points. But the Wildcat defense clamped down after allowing 146 yards and 10 points on SUU’s first two possessions.
“When we deal with a little adversity, then I think we get stronger,” said Weber State coach Jay Hill.
The rest of the night, the Thunderbirds produced 73 total yards and three points, while absorbing six sacks (three by Wildcat lineman Cardon Malan) and having six three-and-out series. SUU had recorded 487 yards in Ogden.
“They beat us thoroughly,” said SUU coach Demario Warren.
After throwing three TD passes in a 21-19 first-round win over Western Illinois, Cantwell had said he was eager to go play a full game against SUU. Disregarding an interception that basically gave SUU three points late in the first half, he got better as this game went along. The Wildcats took command with two long touchdown drives to start the third quarter, ending with Cantwell’s 5-yard run and his 10-yard pass to tight end Andrew Vollert.
Weber State’s defense “kept giving us the ball, kept giving us opportunities,” Cantwell said. “Just the fact that I was able to go through all four quarters and help the offense … was amazing.”
The Wildcats’ season may not end well, considering they have to visit powerful James Madison in Harrisonburg, Va.
But of Saturday night, when they lingered on the field for a half-hour to bask in a December victory, the Wildcats deserved to enjoy another achievement for the program. And they’re not fazed by what’s ahead.
“You want opportunities like this,” Hill said. “We wanted a really good opponent in the first round. We got it. We wanted an opportunity at Southern Utah. … We got it. Now, this is the next opponent.”
Weber State last appeared in the quarterfinals in 2008, when the FCS playoff field included 16 teams. So the Wildcats have won two playoff games in one season for the first time, which only begins to tell the story of Hill’s four-year tenure in Ogden. No matter what happens in Virginia, this is good stuff for Weber State.