No. 2 Weber State rolls past Southeast Missouri State 48-23 to advance to third round of FCS postseason

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Weber State Wildcats wide receiver David Ames (83) and Utah Utes defensive back Julian Blackmon (23) as the University of Utah Utes host the Weber State Wildcats, Thursday Aug. 30, 2018 at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City.

Ogden • The two sides of Stewart Stadium broke out into a chant that simultaneously turned into a punctuation mark. Senior safety Jordan Preator had just returned Weber State’s second interception of the first half into its opponent’s territory, and the fans braving the December afternoon chill let their team know they recognized what was, at the time, a dominating effort.

Inside the offensive huddle, quarterback Jake Constantine jumped up and down, both to stay warm, but he also raised his hands again and again, asking the fans on each side of the stadium to cheer just a little bit louder. They happily obliged. Because the Weber State Wildcats gave them every reason to in Saturday’s FCS second-round playoff game.

The No. 2 seed Wildcats topped visiting Southeast Missouri State 48-23 to move on in the FCS postseason. Weber State (10-2) now hosts No. 7 seed Maine in a third-round matchup at 6 p.m. next Friday in Ogden.

“You celebrate for just a little bit and then we move right on,” Weber State head coach Jay Hill said.

Soon after the fans' chant no longer echoed throughout the stadium, Constantine wrapped up what was likely the best quarter of football he’s ever played. It was a career-high afternoon for the quarterback, accounting for five total touchdowns. The 98th-ranked passing offense in the FCS had itself a heyday in its 2018 postseason opener.

The sophomore from Camarillo, Calif., threw for four touchdowns in the second quarter, galvanizing the Wildcats beyond a slow start that featured the visiting Redhawks taking a 7-0 first-quarter lead. Once Weber State settled in, Constantine had all day to pick apart a Southeast Missouri State defense that entered Saturday as the No. 1 defense in the FCS ranks in forced turnovers.

“I thought we were great today,” Constantine said. “I think we came out with great intensity.”

Constantine and the Wildcat offense were untouchable for most of the second quarter, scoring 27 unanswered points. Sophomore receiver Isiah Jackson hauled in two touchdowns, while fellow sophomore Rashid Shaheed and freshman Devon Cooley snagged one apiece. While the Redhawks came into Saturday’s game touted as the most opportunistic defense in the country, it was the Weber defense that put its offense in ideal striking distance throughout the day. In all, the Wildcats defense had four interceptions.

Senior cornerback Keilan Benjamin grabbed his team-leading fifth interception of the year, which set up Cooley’s 6-yard touchdown grab to give Weber its first lead of the game. Preator had a second interception, a 48-yard touchdown return in the fourth.

“We practiced it all week and we knew it was going to happen,” Preator said. “Coach Hill told us they were primed for a big turnover game, that they would give us chances and we just had to capitalize on them.”

And, of course, Weber State’s special teams helped flip the script. Weber State dialed up two successful fake punts in the first half. The second allowed Constantine and the offense to retake the field and led to another touchdown.

“I used to like to do the same thing when I was special teams coordinator,” Hill said.

Southeast Missouri State eventually rallied. The Redhawks scored 16 unanswered points themselves after Constantine fumbled an attempted shovel pass that was returned for a touchdown with 12:41 left in the fourth quarter. Weber State’s special teams stopped the rally in its tracks. The Wildcats faked what would’ve been a 21-yard field goal as punter Doug Lloyd ran it in from four yards out to seal the game.

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