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Weber State knocks off No. 16 Cal Poly to keep playoff chances alive

OGDEN — Weber State coach Jay Hill had a flashback Saturday afternoon.

He flashed back to his days playing football at Utah and later as a Utes assistant coach, back when Air Force was on the yearly schedule, which meant a week preparing for an offense only a handful of teams still run.

In the Big Sky Conference, No. 16-ranked Cal Poly is the equivalent of Air Force. And that explains the big smile on Hill’s face after his Wildcats upended the option-running Mustangs, 22-15 at Stewart Stadium.

“Oh yeah, they’re exactly that way,” Hill said. “They’re exactly like Air Force, exactly like if you play Navy or Georgia Tech. It’s a scheme you don’t see very often.”

Hill was referencing the Mustangs’ option-style attack, which, going into Saturday’s game, was the No. 2 rushing offense among FCS teams. Indeed, Cal Poly sauntered into Ogden with an air of confidence considering its FCS top 25 ranking and the 370.4 team rushing yards per game.

To that point, the most important takeaway from Saturday’s game is that the ‘Cats held Cal Poly to just 190 net rushing yards, 180 yards below the Mustangs’ season average.

With the win, the Wildcats (6-4 overall; 5-2 Big Sky) earned their second consecutive winning season and put themselves in good position to have their first seven-win season since coach Ron McBride’s ‘Cats accomplished the feat in 2009.

WSU also has a good chance to make the FCS playoffs this year, but in order to do so they absolutely must beat Idaho State next Saturday in Pocatello.

To his credit, Hill truly has facilitated a culture change in and around the WSU football program.

“We’ve got an opportunity to win seven games, that hasn’t happened around here in a long time,” Hill said. “This is two winning season in a row; that hasn’t happened around here in a long time. We’re on the right track. Are we where we want to be? Not yet. We’ve still yet to play our best football, and our players know that.

In addition to slowing down the Mustangs powerful running game, the Wildcats had an interception, two forced fumbles, five tackles for a loss and six pass breakups.

Defensively speaking, the ‘Cats were really on top of their game.

“I think that’s a great rushing attack,” Hill said of the Mustangs. “I’ve got to give our defensive coaches credit for coming up with a scheme to slow it down and stop it.”

It’s interesting to note that for the ‘Cats, one of their leading tacklers — senior Cory Thomson — is actually a running back.

The idea of moving Thomson to safety hit Hill last Sunday. He mulled it over in his mind and later told his assistants of his decision. He then went to Thomson himself, and apparently Hill gets a lot of support around the WSU football offices because nobody so much as blinked over the decision.

Thomson wound up with a team-leading 14 total tackles and a tackle for loss.

Offensively, the ‘Cats were led by quarterback Jadrian Clark, who completed 23 of 32 passes for 186 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. In all seven Wildcats carried the ball against the Mustangs. Running back Haiti Moimoi carried 12 times for 54 yards and senior Emmanuel Pooler added 21 yards on five carries.

Drew Batchelor and Andrew Vollert had six catches apiece. Batchelor had 64 yards and a TD, while Vollert had 51 yards and a score.

The offensive numbers looked great for the ‘Cats, and Hill was thrilled to see a spark in the first quarter, something his team has struggled with this season. But in the big picture of Saturday’s game, a major key was the play of the defense. And what makes that even more impressive is that, much like Air Force and its option attack back when Hill was in the WAC, the Wildcats had to prepare for the Mustangs on a limited time schedule.

“That scheme’s hard,” Hill said. “You just don’t see it very often.”

Although some teams would just as soon never have to face the intricacies of an option attack, Jay Hill’s Weber State defense played well enough Saturday; they might want see more of it in the coming weeks.