“We wanted an opportunity at Southern Utah because we knew that’s who was waiting, we got it,” said Weber State University head coach Jay Hill.
In their second round playoff game, the Weber State Wildcats went south, to face the only FCS team to beat them this season.
In the matchup, the Wildcats took down the Southern Utah University Thunderbirds 30–13 and advanced to the FCS Playoff Quarterfinals.
The Thunderbirds jumped on the Wildcats early, scoring on a 16-yard touchdown run by sophomore running back Jay Green Jr. After WSU punted on their first drive of the game, the Thunderbirds marched down the field and scored a field goal, making the score 10–0.
The Thunderbirds moved into field goal territory after a 49-yard run by SUU senior quarterback Patrick Tyler. The score stood at 10–0 by the end of the first quarter.
On the first drive of the second quarter, the Wildcats marched the ball down the field, only for Weber State’s sophomore running back Kevin Smith to fumble on the four-yard line.
The next time the Wildcats got the ball it was all senior Drew Batchelor. The receiver moved the chains for a first down early in the drive on a catch that was first called incomplete, before being overturned.
Batchelor then caught the 20-yard touchdown pass, making the score 10–7 in favor of the Thunderbirds after the extra point. Batchelor led the ’Cats in receiving in the game, finishing with 98 receiving yards and one touchdown.
“It’s a good day to be a Wildcat,” Batchelor said.
By the end of the first half the score was 13–13 after two field goals from Weber State freshman kicker Trey Tuttle, and one at the end of the half by SUU’s freshman kicker Manny Berz. In the second half, it was the Wildcats who jumped out early, with senior quarterback Stefan Cantwell running in the touchdown.
Hill said, “I thought the key drive of the game was how they went out and played that first drive of the second half.”
The score capped off a seven play, 81-yard drive for Weber State. Cantwell threw a touchdown to senior tight end Andrew Vollert on the next drive, giving the Wildcats a 27–13 lead they would hold until the end of the third quarter.
On the first play in the fourth quarter, redshirt freshman Rashid Shaheed dropped a pass from Cantwell in the end zone. The drop was the third missed scoring opportunity for the Wildcats, after the first quarter fumble on the goal line and a third quarter drive that ended on the SUU 1-yard line.
The next score for the Wildcats came off a Tuttle field goal, putting the Thunderbirds in a three-score hole. Despite trailing by 17, the Thunderbirds continued to fight.
They moved consistently down the field, only to give up three sacks to Weber State seniors Cardon Malan and McKay Murphy as well as junior linebacker Justus Brown. The Wildcats ended with six total sacks, three by Malan.
“Our defense played great as a whole,” Malan said. “I could just go through every guy on our team on the defense, they stepped up and played great.”
The sacks forced the Thunderbirds to kick their eighth punt of the game, with only five minutes remaining — SUU would not get the ball back. The Wildcats were able to march methodically down the field, kneeling the final seconds off the clock inside of Southern Utah’s 10-yard line.
This was the first time Cantwell played an entire game against the Thunderbirds, as he was knocked out of their matchup earlier this season with a concussion.
Cantwell said, “The fact that I was able to go through all four quarters and to help the offense go down the field was amazing.”
Cantwell finished the game with 299 passing yards, his most since WSU played the University of California, and led the team in rushing with 105 yards and one rushing touchdown.
The next opponent for the Wildcats is the James Madison University Dukes, the top-ranked team in the playoffs and in all of FCS football. The Dukes are also coming into the game on a 24 game win streak.
Hill said, “I shouldn’t have to say one thing this week to motivate these players to practice hard and go out and get this.”