OGDEN — Weber State is already staring at a discouraging 0-3 start to the 2012 collegiate football campaign, and it certainly doesn't get any easier for the Wildcats this week, either.
Weber State opens Big Sky Conference play Saturday evening — it's WSU's annual Homecoming game as well — with a difficult matchup against an Eastern Washington University team that is ranked ninth in the latest Football Championship Subdivision polls.
The Eagles from EWU have played a pair of Football Bowl Subdivision opponents thus far this season, as did Weber State. But unlike the Wildcats, Eastern Washington nearly beat both of them, winning its opener at Idaho 20-3 before dropping a 24-20 decision at Washington State.
Weber State, meanwhile, comes into Saturday night's game following a 35-21 loss last weekend to McNeese State, which piled up 557 yards of total offense — 300 yards more than the Wildcats could muster.
To make matters worse for this struggling Weber State squad, the Wildcats lost one of their best offensive weapons, junior wide receiver Shaydon Kehano, for the remainder of the season when he suffered a fractured fibula in his right leg following a fourth-quarter reception in last Saturday's loss. Kehano had 11 catches for 149 yards and WSU's only two receiving touchdowns this season. He has 56 career catches for 1,082 yards and 11 TDs and is likely to apply for a medical redshirt year.
"Our players were disappointed in how things went Saturday," said WSU interim head coach Jody Sears, who is still searching for his first win as a head coach. "They still have a good attitude but we need to raise the level of our execution and consistency and tighten things up. We have to continue to grow and get better and raise our intensity. We can't let our guard down at all and we have to stay consistent.
"Eastern Washington is another really good team and is extremely well-coached. They have a very strong offense and are very disciplined. We will have our hands full once again."
Weber State senior quarterback Mike Hoke, who threw for just 69 yards and a touchdown with an interception in the loss to McNeese State, admitted that the Wildcats' confidence level has been shaken just a bit following three straight setbacks.
"Any time after a loss, it's always down," he said. "But once you get back in the film room and look at the corrections, it's all stuff that's fixable. Most of the time, it's mental stuff. It's not like it's unfixable or anything like that. Once you start preparing for (Eastern Washington) and seeing what they do, and seeing how we can combat what they do, our confidence level will get back up and going into Saturday we'll be ready to play."
History certainly isn't on Weber State's side in this matchup, however. The Wildcats' all-time record in Big Sky openers is 22-27, and they are 23-27 in Homecoming games, including three Homecoming contests — 1989, 2000 and 2004 — with Eastern Washington. WSU lost to the Eagles all three times.
Today marks the 50th anniversary of Weber State's first football game as a Division I school. On Sept. 22, 1962, then-Weber State College opened its 1962 season with a 26-6 loss at Western State.
On the brighter side, Weber State junior Tony Epperson leads the nation in punting, as the Park City native is averaging 48.0 yards per kick — best in the country by nearly three yards per punt — after averaging 55 yards on eight punts in the loss to McNeese State. Epperson also ranks second on the team in tackles with 19 and has one interception, a fumble recovery and a forced fumble thus far this season.
Wildcats on the air
Eastern Washington (1-1)
at Weber State (0-3)
Saturday, 6:05 p.m.
Stewart Stadium, Ogden
Radio: 106.9 FM
Copyright 2017, Deseret News Publishing Company