It's going to be nuts. —SUU coach Demario Warren
CEDAR CITY — Twenty four. That's the number of games played between the Southern Utah Thunderbirds and the Weber State Wildcats since their “Beehive Bowl” rivalry began 34 years ago. The Wildcats lead the series with 16 wins, having come away victorious two-thirds of the time (Weber State has outscored SUU by over a hundred points over the course of the rivalry, 696 to 591).
Of course, both teams have had dominant stretches over the years, with Weber State winning 11 in a row from 1984 to 1997 and Southern Utah claiming eight wins in the last 13 meetings (the T-Birds boast the largest victory in the series, a 44-0 beatdown administered in 2015).
Six of the last seven victories in the series have been claimed by the visiting team, most recently the T-Birds 32-16 victory over the Wildcats on Oct. 14.
Through the years there have been thrilling comebacks, the 2016 contest comes to mind, last-second victories and heartbreaking defeats, and yet, none of the previous 24 contests can hold a candle to the 25th meeting.
The T-Birds and Wildcats, co-champions of the Big Sky Conference, will battle for the 25th time Saturday at 6 p.m. at SUU’s Eccles Coliseum in a bout that doubles as a second-round FCS playoff matchup, as well as a rivalry game.
The winner will advance to the quarterfinals, where it will most likely face the defending FCS champion James Madison Dukes. The loser, meanwhile, will have its season, and its bid to become national champions, come to an end.
“This is a big game. It is a rivalry game, it’s for the playoffs, we’ve wanted it,” said Weber State head coach Jay Hill. “There is a lot riding on this (game) for both teams. It is big and should be hyped.”
“It is a big moment for our football program,” SUU head coach Demario Warren agreed. “It’s a big moment for Southern Utah and it’s a big moment for Cedar City. It is going to be a great matchup versus our rivals and we hope to come out and play some of the best football we have played all year.”
It’ll take just that for either side to come away with the win, considering the caliber of the two teams.
Both are among the nation's finest, with the Wildcats (10-2) boasting a top-10 ranking (Weber State is No. 8 in the FCS Coaches Poll and No. 11 in the STATs FCS Top 25) and the T-Birds (9-2) are just outside of the top 10. (SUU is currently ranked No. 12 and No. 13 in the two polls).
No. 8/11 Weber State at No. 12/13 Southern Utah
Saturday, 6 p.m MST
Eccles Coliseum, Cedar City
Radio: KLO 1430 AM (WSU broadcast)
KSUB 590 AM (SUU broadcast)
Both are currently in the midst of impressive winning streaks, as SUU has come out on top in seven straight games, while Weber bounced back from its loss to the T-Birds with six straight wins, including last weekend's triumph over Western Illinois.
Both are among the nation’s elite at what they do best.
For SUU that means offense, as the T-Birds come in as the country's ninth-best team in total offense.
Led by quarterback Patrick Tyler, SUU has racked up over 5,000 yards of offense and 51 touchdowns this season. Tyler has accounted for almost half of that production himself, throwing for 2,672 yards and 20 touchdowns, while rushing for 414 yards and five scores.
Add in the efforts of running backs James Felila and Jay Green, who have combined for 1,299 yards rushing and 21 touchdowns, and it is easy to see why the T-Birds are an elite offensive team.
“We’ve got a great team,” said Warren. “Offensively we really came into our own the last six or seven weeks of the season. Once we catch fire we can light up the scoreboard.”
On the other side, Weber State boasts one of the finest defenses in all of FCS football.
The Wildcats come in ranked as the 37th best defense in the country, 12th best in scoring defense.
The Weber State defense has limited opponents to just 24 touchdowns this season and is a top-10 defense in the red zone, having allowed just 11 scores on 30 visits.
The Wildcats boast some of the finest defensive players in the country, including Senior Bowl invitee and Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year Taron Johnson, not to mention lineman McKay Murphy and linebacker LeGrand Toia.
“Taron Johnson is one of the elite corners in the whole country,” said Hill. “I’m very proud of my defense. They get out of drives, cause turnovers and do a great job maintaining field position for us.”
Needless to say, it’ll be quite the battle, one that both teams are excited about.
“For us, I’m excited about it,” said Hill. “We’re focused on going down there and playing our best game of the year. If we do that, we will like the outcome.”
“It's going to be nuts,” added Warren. “We've been working as a program to gain both Big Sky respect and national respect, but we’ve got some more work to do. We believe we have what it takes to be the last team standing.”