Weber State quarterback Stefan Cantwell shredded Southern Utah’s defense with his passing and running, and then he framed the Wildcats’ postseason run.
“You’re making history, as you go through the playoffs,” he said.
Cantwell has made a career of memorable moments. No quarterback in Utah football history could match his credentials of leading Bingham High School to two state championships, Snow College to a bowl victory and Weber State to the FCS quarterfinals, with a school-record 11 victories this season. With a stop at Dixie State University and a church mission that covered parts of three years, Cantwell’s career covers nine seasons of high-profile games.
And here comes another one: Weber State will meet No. 1 seed James Madison, the FCS defending champion, Friday night in Harrisonburg, Va.
Logically, that’s where Cantwell’s football story will end. But who knows? Nobody outside of the Wildcat program imagined him doing what he already has done as a first-year starter, passing for 2,740 yards and 23 touchdowns and running for 550 yards. He accounted for 404 yards and three touchdowns in last week’s 30-13 victory at Southern Utah.
Reviewing Cantwell’s season, Wildcat coach Jay Hill said, “I told everyone this was what was going to happen. He’s a winner, he’s a great leader. Everything I thought he was going to be, he’s become.”
Tight end Andrew Vollert also claims to have seen this coming. “Honestly, right when he got here,” Vollert said, “I knew there was something special with him.”
Cantwell backed up Jadrian Clark during the Wildcats’ 7-5 season of 2016, which ended with a first-round playoff loss at Chattanooga. In September, he passed for 431 yards in a loss at California. The Wildcats’ only other defeat came against SUU in October, after Cantwell was injured in the second quarter.
Weber State’s players were motivated to beat Western Illinois in the playoffs, so they could get another shot at the Thunderbirds. So after avenging that loss, what’s left for them?
“It was a big deal, winning there, but compared to what’s possible, it’s not that big of a deal,” said defensive lineman McKay Murphy. “It’s really cool to say we beat ‘em … and we solidified ourselves at the top of the Big Sky. But to end there, a lot of us would have kind of a letdown.”
An upset of James Madison would require the Wildcats’ best effort, that’s for sure. The Dukes have a 24-game winning streak, built around a defense that ‘s allowing 8.8 points and 235.1 yards per game. In 2017.
JMU’s offense also is productive, with senior quarterback Bryan Schor’s passing statistics comparable to Cantwell’s. The Dukes beat Stony Brook 26-7 in the FCS round of 16.
Weber State at James Madison
At Bridgeforth Stadium, Harrisonburg, Va.
Kickoff • Friday, 5 p.m. MST.
TV • ESPN2.
Radio • AM 1430.
Series • First meeting.
About the Wildcats • Weber State’s seven-game, in-season winning streak is a school record. … The Wildcats’ two playoff victories in 2017 have doubled the program’s total of postseason wins. … Starting offensive linemen Baron Bruce and Tyler Downs have missed both playoff games with injuries, as the Wildcats have averaged 25.5 points.
About the Dukes • James Madison coach Mike Houston is 26-1 in two seasons. … Senior quarterback Bryan Schor ranks second in the FCS with a .692 completion percentage. … The Dukes beat FBS member East Carolina 34-14 in their season opener. … Friday’s winner will meet South Dakota State or New Hampshire in the semifinals.