OGDEN — A host of firsts will take place Saturday afternoon when the No. 2 seeded Weber State Wildcats take the field at Stewart Stadium, opposite the Redhawks of Southeast Missouri State.
The game will mark the first meeting between the Wildcats (9-2) and Redhawks (9-3), not to mention the first time Weber State will have played an opponent from the Ohio Valley Conference.
It’ll be the first game of its kind in school history, as Weber State has never hosted a December football game.
It’ll also be the Wildcats' first postseason game this season — No. 3/4 ranked Weber State earned a bye during the first round of the FCS playoffs.
Truth be told, firsts have been nothing new for Weber State this year.
The team won back-to-back conference titles for the first time in school history, has now qualified for the playoffs in three consecutive seasons, a program first, and was awarded its first ever playoff seed.
The Wildcats also had a record number of players earn Big Sky All-Conference honors, including 13 first teamers. That group included Brady May, Iosua Opeta, Rashid Shaheed and LeGrand Toia, all of whom earned first team honors for the second straight season.
Then there is Josh Davis. The redshirt freshman tailback became the — you guessed it — first player in Weber State history to be named Big Sky Freshman of the Year.
“I love watching (Weber State) because that’s what I want to try to be,” Southeast Missouri State head coach Tom Matukewicz said in a press conference earlier this week. “They play really hard, they play physical and they play smart. (They are) really good on defense and really good on special teams.
“Offensively, they’ll just grind it out on you,” he continued. “They’ve got a freshman All-American-type running back (Davis) and a good O-line. Their quarterbacks make great decisions, and they’re good in turnover margin. We have our work cut out for us.”
With all the program firsts and praise, a national championship is on the Wildcats’ radar, especially after last season’s quarterfinals run.
First things first, however, the Wildcats have to get by the Redhawks, a feat easier said than done.
SEMO has had quite the campaign this fall, including the third-best turnaround by a team at the FCS level (the Redhawks went 3-8 last season).
The Redhawks won the program's first-ever playoff game last weekend when they upset Stony Brook and have recorded a pair of upsets over ranked opponents this year, with wins over No. 4 Jacksonville State and the No. 15 ranked Seawolves.
Furthermore, SEMO boasts the Ohio Valley Conference's Coach of the Year (Matukewicz), Offensive Player of the Year (running back Marquise Terry) and Defensive Player of the Year (linebacker Zach Hall).
“On offense, they have some weapons, and where they get you is big plays,” Weber State head coach Jay Hill said. “Defensively, their front is solid, pretty stout even, and they do a good job.”
Among the weapons on offense are Terry, quarterback Daniel Santacaterina and a trio of wide receivers in Kristian Wilkerson, Zach Smith and Jerrick Orr.
“They have a really top-notch tailback,” Hill said. “He has gone for over 1,200 yards this year. He does a great job. I like their offensive line, both of their tackles are solid, dang good FCS players. They have three wideouts that can all beat you, and they beat you because of different aspects. Their top wideout (Wilkerson) has 14 touchdowns. He has been very productive in the red zone.”
Defense is where the Redhawks truly make their mark, however.
SEMO is the premiere turnover forcing team. The Redhawks have recorded 35 takeaways through 12 games this season, 22 in just the last six games. Their plus-27 turnover margin is far and away the best mark in FCS.
“We need to stay sharp,” Hill said. “They do a good job forcing you into third and long. That is where they hit you with some blitzes, or they drop eight (into coverage). … That is where they get their turnovers.
"We have to do a good job staying out of those long yardage situations and not fall into the trap of what they want you to do.”2 comments on this story
No matter the challenge posed by the Redhawks, postseason football is what the Wildcats have been waiting for.
“It’s super exciting,” said Hill. “This is my favorite time of year. Football season is great, but it gets even better come playoff time. We practiced hard last week and will just have to find a way to win."
WSU on the air
- No. 3/4 Weber State (9-2) vs. No. 20 Southeast Missouri State (9-3)
- Saturday, 2 p.m. MST
- Stewart Stadium, Ogden
- TV: ESPN3
- Radio: KLO 1430 AM
- Online: WatchESPN.com