Cedar City • The standard playoff mantra that defense wins championships carried more than enough weight in the minds of the Weber State Wildcats. A shaky beginning wouldn’t matter in the end.
Stefan Cantwell threw two touchdown passes and the defense came up with six sacks as the Wildcats wiped out an early 10-point hole and rolled over Southern Utah 30-13 before a school record of 11,811 fans at Eccles Coliseum.
Weber State improved to 11-2 on the season and earned a trip to play at No. 1 James Madison on Friday night in the FCS quarterfinals.
“I don’t know why it takes us a drive to settle down, but it did again this game,” Weber State coach Jay Hill said. “After that point, I thought our defense played outstanding.”
SUU looked strong early, scoring on its first two drives with a 16-yard run from Jay Green on fourth down and a 38-yard field goal from Manny Berz to take a 10-0 lead, but the T-Birds could manage only 35 more yards the rest of the first half.
Things took a wild turn when SUU senior Chance Bearnson nearly duplicated his pick six from the first meeting at Stewart Stadium, but his interception of a Cantwell pass was returned to the Wildcats 13. From there, the T-Birds could manage only a 24-yard field goal by Berz, and the teams went to the half tied at 13-13.
The turnover — one of three the Wildcats committed in the game — wouldn’t bother them in the least.
“You just have to move on,” Cantwell said. “Things happen as a quarterback. You throw interceptions and have fumbles. The defense played well all night, kept giving us the ball, giving us opportunities.”
Once the second half began, the Wildcats grabbed a stranglehold on the momentum. Cantwell scored on a 5-yard run on the opening drive, then threw a 10-yard score to Andrew Vollert on the next possession to stretch the lead to 27-13 and deflate most of the red-clad crowd.
“I’m proud of our guys. They fought, they clawed, they dug,” Hill said. “It wasn’t always pretty, but when you’re playing the team we played tonight, you’re going to leave some stuff out there.”
With the quarterfinal game up next against the defending national champion Dukes, Hill said big motivational speeches won’t be necessary.
“I shouldn’t have to do one thing to motivate these players to practice hard and go out and get this,” Hill said. “That’s what football is. You want opportunities like this.”