OGDEN — The Weber State Wildcats pulled off another second half comeback to advance to the semifinals of the FCS playoffs, defeating Big Sky Conference foe Montana 17-10 in the quarterfinals. 

With the victory, Weber State will make its first-ever appearance in the tournament’s final four on Dec. 21 when the Wildcats travel to face James Madison on the Dukes’ home field in Harrisburg, Virginia.

The breakthrough victory came after Weber State had lost for two straight years in the quarterfinals, on the road against James Madison in 2017 and at home against Maine in 2018. 

“We said we wanted to take another step forward this year and this is part of that step,” said Weber State head coach Jay Hill, who continued to say that his team is focused on being one of the nation’s elite teams.

Friday’s matchup was the second straight playoff game that the Wildcats won thanks to improved second half play. They trailed at halftime of last Saturday’s second round contest against Kennesaw State but were able to squeeze out a 26-20 wining decision to advance. 

“We are resilient, they don’t flinch,” said Hill of his team’s character in comeback efforts.

The Grizzlies struck first, taking a 7-3 lead thanks to a 1-yard pass from Sneed in the second quarter. At the halftime break, the Wildcats’ lone score had come on a 41-yard field goal by Trey Tuttle. They were held to minus-3 yards passing and 38 yards total compared to 157 yards through the air and 170 total by the Grizzlies in the first half.

Once the third quarter began, it was a completely different game and a wild one at that. The Wildcats took the lead with less than 10 minutes remaining in the third on a heroic effort by running back Josh Davis, who had left the game in the second quarter with an apparent leg injury. After scoring on a 11-yard screen pass by Jake Constantine, Davis was seen limping back to the sideline and would not re-enter the game.

“For him to go back in there and gut it out when we needed him to be in there on that play was huge. It just shows to his character because he was pretty injured at that point,” said Hill who remarked that Davis had a painful hip pointer injury.

Davis’ effort was the turning point for Weber State. Although they were stymied with a blocked field goal attempt in the third quarter, the Wildcats stretched their lead to 17-7 in the fourth quarter with a punt that was blocked and recovered in the end zone by Ja’Kobe Harris. 

Montana’s Brandon Purdy booted a 27-yard to cut the lead to 17-10 and make it a one-score game. Weber State then punted the ball away to the Grizzlies to give Montana a chance to spoil the night for the Wildcats with less than three minutes remaining. However, George Tarlas’ interception — his second of the game — sealed the win for Weber State. 

Due to the difficult weather conditions, yardage and offensive momentum came at a premium early on as snow dumped onto the players and spectators at Stewart Stadium. With players from both sides slipping due to poor footing and dropping passes thanks to slippery pigskin, the offense was minimal. At the end of the first quarter, Weber State had just 14 yards gained while Montana mustered just 18. However, once the snow turned the rain, the offense ramped up but the Grizzlies still out-gained Weber State 274 yards to 113. 

Despite the offensive imbalance, Weber State still found a way to find and will extend its season further than ever before. For Hill, the key was that the offense didn’t turn the ball over once despite Montana’s strong effort and difficult weather conditions.

“The lack of offensive efficiency was a little frustrating but I will say this, the offense did a phenomenal job under those conditions of not turning the ball over,” said Hill.

Coming into the game, the quarterfinals contest agains the Grizzlies was billed as a revenge game for Weber State. Montana handed the Wildcats their lone FCS and Big Sky loss in a 35-16 battle that pitted two top-five squads against each other. In that game, Montana quarterback Dalton Sneed completed 17-of-25 passes for 265 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. However, in Friday’s late night matchup, when it mattered most, he was picked off five times by a stingy Wildcat defense. Sneed was also sacked six times — four times by defensive lineman Adam Rodriguez, a school single-game record — in Weber State’s historic win.

“We played angry,” said Rodriguez on the difference between the first matchup and Friday’s game against Montana. “The last game we went in there and they kinda smacked us around and this game, we just showed what real Weber State football is like and that’s hard-nosed football and great defense.”