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Ravell Call, Deseret News
Weber State Wildcats head coach Jay Hill yells instructions during NCAA football against the Southern Utah Thunderbirds in Cedar City on Saturday, Dec. 2, 2017.
This is probably the biggest game in Weber State history and we are ready to go. We are ready to give them our best shot. —Weber State tight end Andrew Vollert

Oddly enough, for a team that is one of just eight remaining in the FCS playoffs, the Weber State Wildcats have been fighting against the odds all season long.

Big Sky Conference preseason rankings, courtesy of both the media and coaches, had the Wildcats finishing a middling fifth, behind the likes of North Dakota, Eastern Washington, Northern Arizona and Cal Poly.

Of course all Weber State football did in response was win a share of the Big Sky conference championship, their first since 2008.

In conference games at Montana State and Eastern Washington the Wildcats were roundly expected to come up short, recent history suggested as much, and yet they went on the road and claimed victory in both contests.

Come playoff time, per All-Big Sky defensive tackle McKay Murphy, the Wildcats were expected to lose, both in the first and second round.

“I’m pretty sure the last two games, as far as Twitter goes, we have been the underdog,” said Murphy. “We were a huge underdog against Western Illinois and people thought we were going to lose to SUU too.”

The Wildcats (11-2) did not lose to either team, rather they defeated the Leathernecks 21-19 and then handled the rival T-Birds 30-13.

On Friday at 5 p.m. MDT, Weber State will take the field at James Madison University, once again as the underdog, only on this occasion the label is warranted.

The No. 8/11 Wildcats are set to battle the No.1 James Madison Dukes (12-0) for the right to advance to the FCS semifinals, in a game that may very well be the biggest in school history, against a team that may be the best they have faced all season.

WSU on the air

No. 8/11 Weber State (11-2)

at No. 1 James Madison (12-0)

Friday, 5 p.m. MST

Bridgeforth Stadium, Harrisonburg, Virginia


Radio: KLO 1430 AM

Online: WatchESPN.com

“Is this game huge?” Weber State head coach Jay Hill opined. “Absolutely. I mean you are playing in the quarterfinals, you are one of the last eight teams in the country playing and you are playing the No. 1 team in the country. This game is huge and the guys are fired up.”

“It is a great opportunity,” added All-Big Sky tight end Andrew Vollert. “This is probably the biggest game in Weber State history and we are ready to go. We are ready to give them our best shot.”

On paper at least, it’ll take everything the Wildcats have to keep their magical season alive.

The Dukes have been far and away the best team in FCS the past two seasons and come into the contest sporting a 24-game winning streak.

Since the arrival of head coach Mike Houston, in 2016, James Madison has gone 26-1, with the only loss coming at the hands of the North Carolina Tar Heels.

The Dukes boast the top scoring defense in the country, having allowed an average of just 8.8 points per game, as well as the 11th best scoring offense in FCS football (they average 35.1 ppg).

Quarterback Bryan Schor has been incredible in his career in Harrisonburg, Virginia, winning the Colonial Athletic Association Offensive Player of the Year award in 2016 and has become the school’s all-time leader in both touchdown passes and completions this season.

“He’s very good,” Hill said of Schor. “He can beat you with the run and the throw. He’s got good pocket presence and he knows when to escape. (Schor) is decorated, he has received a lot of awards. He is a big-time guy.”

On defense, the Dukes are led by defensive tackle Andrew Ankrah, the CAA Defensive Player of the Year and one of just three finalists for the Buck Buchanan Award, which honors the nations best defender.

“They have a great defense,” said Vollert. “Their team speed is unreal, they really fly to the ball. They give up about eight points a game or some crazy low number like that, but I’m excited and can’t wait to get going.”

The Wildcats counter with the 17th best scoring offense in the country, led by quarterback Stefan Cantwell and Vollert, among others, as well as the 10th best scoring defense in the FCS, headlined by Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year Taron Johnson and Murphy.

“It is a really good matchup for us,” said Hill. “They are really good defensively and really good with special teams and that is a lot like us. I think we are playing ourselves again, a lot like when we were playing Western Illinois.”

“This is a team very similar to us in scheme and just in their strengths. We are excited for this matchup.”

As for the underdog status, the Wildcats wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I think we are right where we want to be,” said Murphy. “We are pretty comfortable in that position, being the underdog. We like going out and proving people wrong.”

They’ll have that chance, yet again, Friday night.

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