Weber State’s historic journey came to an end in the frigid Harrisonburg, VA against the James Madison Dukes as the ‘Cats fell 30-14.
This was the first semifinal appearance in school history for the Wildcats as Head Coach Jay Hill continues to build his legacy, he is now 47-30 in his sixth year at Weber State. In the last three years, he is 32-10 with three straight Big-Sky conference championships.
“You have to take steps each year, this was a step and it’s not what we wanted… we thought we could make a bigger one,” Hill added, “This is a heck of a senior class, they’ve accomplished more than any other class in school history but obviously this is now how we wanted to win.”
The ‘Cats were awarded a third seed which allowed them to host their first two rounds of the playoffs. The first round was a thriller against Kennesaw State as the upset-minded Owls came up short and WSU advanced to the second round.
In the second round, the Wildcats eliminated their arch-rivals from Missoula as the defense smothered the Montana Grizzlies and the good guys walked away with a 17-10 win.
Harrisonburg has been around since 1779 and for the second time in three years, it has welcomed WSU to battle the JMU Dukes in the playoffs. The Dukes won the first match-up 31-28.
The game began at 6:30 EST and Bridgeforth Stadium became electric as the game kicked off and a trip to the national title was up for grabs.
Both teams opening drives were alarming for the Wildcats as the offense went three and out in response to a JMU drive that ended with three points. JMU’s next drive was ending in a touchdown after going 79 yards in 11 plays which took 5:02. Time of possession was becoming an early factor as the previous drive took 5:37 yards.
The Dukes were all over WSU as they pushed their lead to 17-0 and things began to look bleak but along came Weber State as junior quarterback Jake Constantine found the launch codes during the last drive of the half and went 5-5 for 47 yards and a touchdown.
The scoring drive led by Constantine included a 37-yard dart to sophomore wide receiver Ty MacPherson and the drive ended with a quick toss to junior running back Kevin Smith who carried it into the end-zone to trim the lead to 17-7. Constantine finished the game with 186 yards, two touchdowns, and no turnovers.
Unfortunately for the Big-Sky champs… when it rains, it pours. Following the Wildcat touchdown, James Madison returned the kickoff across midfield to set up great field position. The defense looked like they found a spark and just when the Dukes offense looked to be falling apart, JMU retook momentum. On 4th and 30 with four seconds left in the half, JMU’s QB cocked his arm back and launched the ball downfield on a hail mary and came away with a 34-yard touchdown to ignite the crowd and give them a 24-7 cushion which felt like a dagger driven deep into the heart of the Wildcats championship hopes.
The second half was similar to the first half after both teams added a touchdown and JMU kept the ball on the ground to kill the rest of the clock and clinch their ticket to the national title game. The scoreboard read 30-14 when the final whistle was blown.
As the final seconds ticked on Weber State’s 2019 campaign, a new chapter was written into the program’s history book as they had reached new heights despite the stinging feeling that comes with loss.
Weber State had two FBS match-ups where they were a few plays away from coming up with upset wins. They went undefeated at Stewart Stadium. They won their third straight Big Sky Championship. They advanced further than ever as they reached their first semifinal and were one win away from a trip to the National Championship. Coach Hill and his ‘Cats will look to achieve even more next season as they finish the season with an 11-4 record.
The 2020 season will begin on Saturday, September 5th in Laramie, WY against the Wyoming Cowboys in an FBS-FCS clash.