After a tough road loss last week, the Weber State University football team will return home to face in-state rival Southern Utah University on Saturday. The game will be held at 1 p.m. at Stewart Stadium.
“SUU is an in-state rival, and this game will obviously be tons of fun,” said WSU head coach Jody Sears. “It’s a special deal, especially with Southern Utah being in their second year in the conference. We match up well against Southern.”
The Wildcats are coming off of a bitter loss to Portland State University, 45-24. The Wildcats performed well in their passing game, but were unable to establish the running game and had a rough time stopping the Vikings, especially in the fourth quarter.
“We wore down a little bit in the second half at Portland State and gave up some big plays,” Sears said. “We did some good things on offense and were able to move the ball and make some plays, but had too many turnovers at key times.”
SUU is coming off of its bye week. The Thunderbirds got their sixth win two weeks ago, defeating Idaho State University 19-9. The Thunderbirds used a new quarterback in the game, freshman Mike Sharp, to spark their offense.
“We thought he led the team really well and was able to create some things that we had not created,” said SUU head coach Ed Lamb on a conference call, “scrambles off of our passing game. Our quarterback running game was working really well.”
Offensively, the Wildcats and the Thunderbirds have similar stat lines. The teams both average about 300 yards on offense. SUU has a higher passing average, but WSU has a higher rushing average.
In recent weeks, the Wildcats have averaged more than 300 yards in their passing attack. In the game against PSU, Shaydon Kehano, arguably the best receiver on the team, returned from an injury that had him sidelined in the first eight games, giving freshman quarterback Austin Chipoletti another weapon on offense.
“It was absolutely awesome to get one of our best receivers, probably the best receiver we’ve had in the last few years at Weber,” Sears said. “He broke his leg during camp. But it was nice getting Shaydon Kehano back. He had a big day.”
The biggest difference is on the other side of the ball. The Wildcats have given up an average of 531 yards on defense, ranking last in the Big Sky Conference. On the flip side, SUU has given up an average of just 348 yards a game, ranking first in the BSC.
“Coach Lamb has those guys playing great ball,” Sears said. “Their defense is playing lights-out. We know that we are going to have our hands full. When you turn that film on, you see Southern Utah and you see their defense and their line play; they are fundamentally sound.”
The Wildcats defeated SUU last year by a score of 24-22. The Wildcat defense held strong on the final play of the game, denying a two-point conversion that would have sent the game into overtime. It was the first win for Sears as coach of the Wildcats.
“The only thing similar to a year ago would be the record,” Sears said. “We’re a lot different. We had a fifth-year senior quarterback last year, and this year we have a true freshman. It’s just a matter of consistency.”
Both coaches said the game will be a hard-fought battle. Neither coach said he expects an easy victory.
“Weber State is a dangerous team,” Lamb said. “As with all rivalries, expectation of the favorite versus the underdog can be thrown out the window. The tendency to overlook (Weber State) is there, but every team in this league is capable of winning.”