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MATT HERP
Weber State head coach Jay Hill guides his team in the second half of an NCAA football game against Sacramento State, Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018, Ogden, Utah. (Matt Herp/Standard-Examiner via AP)

OGDEN — For the third straight year, Weber State is headed to the FCS playoffs.

For the first time, though, the school's football program is going to the postseason as one of the top eight seeds.

The Wildcats (9-2) learned Sunday morning they’ll be the No. 2 seed in this year’s playoffs, earning a first-round bye after winning a share of the Big Sky title and the league’s automatic bid to the postseason.

That kind of surprise — trailing only defending national champion North Dakota State (11-0) in the seeding — was evident in the team’s reaction when the bracket was unveiled during an ESPNU broadcast.

“I saw North Dakota State, which everyone knew was going to get the one seed. And when I saw our flag flying, I thought, ‘Could it be?’ And then, all the sudden it popped up below and everyone started cheering. That was a huge deal," Weber State coach Jay Hill said.

"We really thought we were going to get a top four (seed), but we didn’t know exactly where it would fall. Man, that’s an awesome deal, gives us home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Now we’ve just got to take care of business."

Weber State will next play on Dec. 1 at 2 p.m. MST at Stewart Stadium against the winner of Southeast Missouri State (8-3) and Stony Brook (7-4) in the second round. The game will be televised on ESPN3.

Hill, though, is urging fans to fill the stadium instead of watching from home.

“We need to get as many people in that stadium as we can get,” he said. “Stewart Stadium needs to be packed. We need that atmosphere. Our players thrive on it.”

By earning the second seed on the opposite side of the bracket from North Dakota State, the Wildcats could play at home all the way until the national championship game, set for Jan. 5, 2019, at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas. All rounds before that are played at campus sites, with the top seed hosting in the second round, quarterfinals and semifinals.

Weber State went 5-0 at home during the regular season, winning by an average of 12.8 points at Stewart Stadium.

Hill isn’t looking past that second-round date, though.

“The key right now is to take it one game at a time,” he said. “You overlook anybody at this stage and you’re going to get in trouble.”

The Big Sky was well-represented in the seedings. Eastern Washington (9-2) and UC Davis (9-2), who shared the Big Sky championship with Weber State this season, earned the No. 3 and No. 6 seeds, respectively. Both are on the Wildcats’ side of the bracket, setting up a potential Big Sky semifinal matchup.

Montana State (7-4) also made the playoffs and will host Incarnate Word (6-4) in the first round this Saturday at 1 p.m., giving the Big Sky four teams in the postseason.

“I’ve always thought the Big Sky is one of the top conferences in the nation. Having three of them in the top eight is big, and I think they were placed correctly,” senior linebacker Landon Stice said.

“The Big Sky is really, really good, and hopefully we show that in the playoffs.”

The Colonial Athletic Association led the way with six teams making the field, led by Maine (8-3) as the No. 7 seed.

Other teams that earned top eight seeds included No. 4 Kennesaw State (10-1), No. 5 South Dakota State (8-2) and No. 8 Colgate (9-1).

The Wildcats enter the playoffs on a six-game winning streak, last losing to Northern Arizona on Oct. 6. During that win streak, Weber State beat FCS-playoff bound Eastern Washington and Montana State in back-to-back weeks.

This will be the Wildcats’ seventh appearance in the FCS playoffs. Weber State will be attempting to improve upon reaching the FCS quarterfinals last year before falling late 31-28 to national runner-up James Madison on the road.

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Weber State's third straight appearance in the playoffs is also a program first. The Wildcats lost to Chattanooga in the first round in 2016, then beat Western Illinois and Southern Utah last season before losing to James Madison.

Senior fullback Brady May said reaching the quarterfinals last year helped the Wildcats realize how close they are to taking the next step as a program.

“After last season and especially that quarterfinal game, we always knew how good we could be. But then, we realized we’re actually right there, we’re just a couple steps away from where we want to be. That really motivated everyone,” he said.