CEDAR CITY — It was his turn, and he delivered.
Weber State quarterback Stefan Cantwell was knocked out early in the second quarter of the regular-season Big Sky game against Southern Utah in Ogden with a concussion, but in Saturday’s FCS second round, he made up for it — all on SUU’s home turf.
Cantwell threw a pair of touchdown passes and rode the back of a punishing defense that produced six sacks to lead the No. 8 Wildcats past No. 13 SUU Saturday before the biggest crowd (11,811) to witness a game at Eccles Coliseum.
This was a classic duel between two teams fighting for their lives to survive and advance to the quarterfinals. It was also the story of a pair of quarterbacks, and Cantwell won, but not without overcoming adversity.
Cantwell threw an interception in the closing seconds of the first half with a 13-10 lead. It could have doomed Weber State, which had grabbed momentum of the game and was in control and poised to go in the locker room, up 20-10.
“They’d told me to go out and not do something stupid, and well, I did,” said Cantwell. His interception, grabbed by Chance Bearnson, was almost a pick-six and set up a 24-yard SUU field goal by Manny Berz with eight seconds left.
“Obviously, you have to forget it and about it and move on,” said Cantwell.
And boy, how he did.
The QB duel was a worthy one.
SUU’s Tyler Patrick, a 6-4, 200-pound transfer from L.A. Valley College who grew up in Compton, California, came into the game a 65 percent passer who had 2,672 yards and 20 touchdowns through the air and 414 rushing yards for five touchdowns.
Weber State’s Cantwell, who played at Bingham High before going to Snow College, is 6-2, 220. This past season, he threw for 2,441 yards and 21 touchdowns while doing a lot of QB draws in Fesi Sitake’s design to amass 597 yards and six touchdowns as a runner.
After sitting out most of the first meeting in Ogden, Cantwell said Saturday's outing was everything he’d hoped it would be. “It was amazing. Our defense played so well and kept giving us the ball, and just to get the ball and have the chance to go down the field was amazing.”
After a 13-13 draw at intermission, Cantwell drove the Wildcats down the field two consecutive possessions in the third quarter to bust the game open 27-13. On the second scoring drive, his 44-yard pass and run to Tui Satuala really hurt the SUU defense. He polished that drive off with a 10-yard touchdown pass over the middle to Andrew Vollert.
Aided by a rough Wildcat defense that got stronger as the game went on, Cantwell’s pinpoint passing elevated the Wildcats while Tyler struggled to complete throws, often over-throwing targets trying to stretch the field.
“They got a beat on us and we couldn’t go uptempo because we were never ahead of the chains,’ said SUU coach Demario Warren. He was concerned his team’s playoff bye week may have cost them some momentum.
As Weber State put up 14 points in the third, SUU had just 34 yards of total offense after getting to 13 points — a far cry from SUU’s season-long consistency in putting up numbers.
A third Wildcat drive in the third quarter was right at SUU’s doorstep when a hike sailed over Cantwell’s head, essentially killing what should have been another three or seven points added to a 27-13 lead, and that pretty much did in the Thunderbirds.
Weber State’s offense put up nearly 600 yards against California of the Pac-12 earlier this year. Things started slow, but when the Wildcats got going, it was pretty to watch.
Cantwell finished 21 of 33 for 299 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He carried the ball 15 times for an impressive 105 yards or a 5.8-yard average on the night.
In all Cantwell had 404 yards total offense.
SUU’s Tyler finished 16 of 31 after starting the game 8 of 10. He passed for just 129 yards, no touchdowns and ran the ball 15 times for 78 yards. He was sacked or caught for losses of 50 yards by Weber State’s defense. Cardon Malan had three sacks, all timely.
Weber State almost doubled up SUU’s offensive production with 447 yards on 73 plays to SUU’s 219 on 65 plays.
Weber State will now face James Madison on its own field, a team ranked No. 1 in the country and a team that has a 24-game win streak.
The exciting thing about Saturday’s matchup is it was in-state, it was a rivalry matchup and it was part of a national championship playoff.
To see the excitement on the faces of Cantwell and Malan, that they and their buddies live on to fight another day, is what college football in December with a true playoff is all about.
It was also the final football game played in the state of Utah this year.