OGDEN — There is something about playoff opponents from the Colonial Athletic Conference.
For the second year in a row, Weber State’s season came to an end at the hands of a team from the CAA, arguably the premier conference in FCS.
In 2017 it was the James Madison Dukes who took down the Wildcats in the quarterfinals and Friday night at Stewart Stadium it was the Maine Black Bears.
Maine defeated Weber State 23-18, in a game best described as a slugfest.
The teams combined for under 600 yards of offense, accrued 16 penalties between them, not to mention five turnovers, and were a combined 8 for 34 on third down.
Many of those negatives were courtesy of the Wildcats, who were beaten, bruised and battered by games end.
“That one obviously hurts, really bad,” Weber State head coach Jay Hill said. “We had some opportunities, a lot of opportunities, and let some things slip away. You have to give Maine a ton of credit. They are tough, hard-nosed and we knew that coming in.”
“This is the greatest experience that I have had in my life, but what could have been?” senior linebacker LeGrand Toia opined. “A lot of us seniors believed we were going to go to the national championship and to come that close to it — it hurts.”
The defeat was largely the result of the play of Maine’s defense, a unit that simply proved too much for the Wildcats.
Ranked No. 9 nationally and No. 2 against the run, the Black Bears defense, nicknamed the ‘Black Hole’, was quite simply dominant throughout the contest.
“They play great defense, especially against the run and I think that showed,” Hill said. “Maine deserves a lot of credit and those players made critical plays when they needed to.”
The Black Bears completely controlled the line of scrimmage and ultimately held Weber State to -1 rushing yards, 151 yards below their season average.
“We did not run the ball effectively at all,” Hill said.
The reason for the Black Bears success up front was simple.
“Our front seven is dominant,” Maine defensive back Jeff DeVaughn said.
Black Bears linebacker Sterling Sheffield went further, noting that “we were violent from start to finish. We pride ourselves on our rush defense and being able to make a team one dimensional.”
Maine did just that and forced Weber State quarterback Jake Constantine to attempt a career-high 52 passes. Four of those attempts ended in an interception, three in the final quarter, all of which ended multiple furious Weber State rally attempts.
“The interceptions they had were obviously key and probably the biggest part of the game,” Hill said. “We had a lot of opportunities and didn’t take advantage of them.”
The Wildcats actually held a lead early, thanks to a Trey Tuttle field goal that kicked off play in the second quarter.
Maine answered with a touchdown towards the end of the period, however, when quarterback Chris Ferguson found Jaquan Blair for a 9-yard strike that capped off a nine-play 47-yard drive.
The Black Bears picked up right where they left off to begin the second half and quickly took a 14-3 lead when Ferguson connected with Earnest Edwards for a 67-yard touchdown.
The Wildcats answered on their ensuing possession with another Tuttle field goal, following a drive that they benefitted from Maine penalties and some official reviews.
Immediately after the field goal, the Wildcats appeared primed to retake the lead when Toia picked off Ferguson, Toia’s first interception this season.
The Wildcats offense was stymied, however, as was often the case Friday night.
“You have to give Maine credit, they made a lot of plays and we didn’t.” said Hill.
Weber State pulled to as close as two points, 14-12, in the third quarter when Constantine found wide receiver Devon Cooley for a 33-yard touchdown, on 4th down and 12 no less.
That was as close as Weber State would get, however, as Maine running back Ramo Jefferson all but put the game away late in the fourth quarter with a 45-yard touchdown run.4 comments on this story
“We are building. This is two straight 10-plus win seasons and we have been to the quarterfinals twice and battled like crazy against two really good teams. The future is very bright,” Hill said postgame. “There isn’t much separating us from them, we just needed to make a couple of plays tonight. We deserve to be among the top eight teams in the country for sure. We just need to take some more steps further.”
“We expect to win and we expect to get better,” Hill continued. “We just have to come back next year and find the resolve to do it again and do it better.”