Although they’re just one win away from playing for the FCS national championship, the Weber State Wildcats are focused on the task at hand.

That is, playing James Madison on the road in the semifinals of the postseason tournament.

For head coach Jay Hill and his team, the name of the game is concentrating on the Dukes and not looking ahead to the next round, as exciting as it may be.

“It’s one game at a time, we’ve been that way for a while now,” said Hill following Wednesday’s practice. 

“We know we’re facing a very good opponent, so I think it’s heightened everybody’s focus and attention to what we have to get done.” — Weber State coach Jay Hill

That game-by-game focus has worked wonders for the Wildcats, who have already made school history in 2019, the program’s 100th year of playing football. Saturday’s game will be the first time that Weber State will play in the semifinals of the FCS playoffs. The Big Sky Conference-champion Wildcats advanced to the final four with a bye in the first round, a 26-20 win over Kennesaw State in the second and a 17-10 victory over rival Montana in the quarterfinals.

The next round of the FCS Playoffs will continue to be somewhat of a revenge tour for the Wildcats. They lost to Montana in the regular season, but got the better of the Griz when it mattered most. Their next opponent, James Madison, eliminated the Wildcats in the quarterfinals of the 2017 playoffs at Harrisonburg, Virginia.

In that game two years ago, a narrow 31-28 decision for the Dukes, Weber State running back Kevin Smith played especially well in the loss. He gathered 126 total yards and scored two touchdowns. Heading into another matchup with James Madison, he’s eager to help his team pick up a different result in 2019.

“Getting a second chance twice, with two teams that overcame us the last time is a great feeling,” said Smith, referring also to the win over Montana. “We already got that extra juice with a large chip on our shoulders to get right after them.”

So far, the Wildcats’ trend in the playoffs has been to play from behind in the first half and mount a second-half comeback, thanks to a game-changing play on defense or special teams. While it may seem like the team may be concerned about starting quickly against James Madison, quarterback Jake Constantine feels his team will be respond to any adversity and be ready to compete no matter what happens early on.

“It’s definitely nice having the lead right away,” said Constantine. “But like coach Hill said (last week in postgame comments) that ‘no-flinch’ mentality is huge. You can tell guys are still going to play hard every down like we are winning the game.” 

While the Wildcats are obviously excited about the position that they’re in, playing meaningful games this late into the year has come with a cost. While most of the college football world was focused on recruiting with the early signing period taking place on Wednesday, Weber State was preparing for the biggest game in school history. It made getting out to recruits a challenge this week.

“It is very difficult to do both,” said Hill on preparing for an opponent and recruiting. Hill continued to mention that at the FCS-level, the strategy is usually to “let the dust settle” and go after the remaining players who have yet to commit. Although it was near impossible to get coaches out on recruiting visits this week, Hill said having a successful program will yield its own rewards.

“Success usually breeds great recruiting so my guess in the end is that it will just help us,” commented Hill, who is considered by many to be one of the best recruiters in the nation at any level of college football.

Despite the obstacles, which include flying across the country to play a team that ranked in the top 10 on both offense and defense, Hill feels confident about his team’s chances.

“We know we’re facing a very good opponent, so I think it’s heightened everybody’s focus and attention to what we have to get done,” said Hill.

Wildcats on the air

FCS Playoffs semifinals 

No. 3 Weber State (11-3) at No. 2 James Madison (13-1)

Bridgeforth Stadium, Harrisonburg, Viriginia

Saturday, Dec. 21, 4:30 p.m.


Radio: 1430 AM