HARRISONBURG, Va. — The Weber State Wildcats saw their best season in school history come to an end with a 30-14 loss to James Madison. The defeat to the Dukes ended Weber State’s FCS Playoffs run in the semifinals, a round that the Wildcats had never competed in prior to Saturday.

“They’re a dang good team. They can throw it, they can run it. We got off to such a slow start that the damage was done in the first quarter.” — Weber State head coach Jay Hill

James Madison will meet North Dakota State in Frisco, Texas in the FCS national championship game in Frisco, Texas on Jan. 11. The Bison advanced to the title game by defeating Montana State 42-14 earlier in the day.

“They’re a dang good team,” said Weber State head coach Jay Hill of James Madison in his postgame comments. “They can throw it, they can run it. We got off to such a slow start that the damage was done in the first quarter.”

From the opening kickoff, Weber State’s offense was almost nonexistent through the opening period. When the first quarter of play concluded, the Wildcats had mustered just 11 yards of total offense without a single first down. Meanwhile, James Madison had racked up 168 yards and had taken a 10-0 lead. 

James Madison scored again, on a 1-yard rush by quarterback Ben DiNucci, to start the second to take a commanding 17-0 lead near the start of the second quarter. The Wildcats played a much-improved second period and seemed to have new life after scoring on a 2-yard pass from Jake Constantine to Kevin Smith to reduce the Dukes’ advantage to just 10 with a 17-7 score with 1:23 remaining in the half.

However, in what could be called the most demoralizing moment of the game for Weber State, the Dukes scored on a Hail Mary from 34 yards out to end the first half. The crushing blow was especially painful considering that they were originally lined up for a 51-yard field goal attempt to end the half before Hill called a timeout to ice the kicker. Rather than line up again for the long try for three points, James Madison hurled a desperate pass into the end zone. DiNucci’s pass connected with Riley Singleton and the Dukes’ lead was extended to 24-7 at the break.

“I made a really dumb call at the end of the half and that took the life out of us a little bit and that’s on me,” Hill said of the decision to take the timeout and allow the Dukes to call a different play.

It had been the Wildcats’ pattern throughout the playoffs to play from behind at halftime and then to steal the game away in the second half thanks to stingy defense and timely big plays. However, in the semifinals against James Madison, the magic wore off and Weber State’s historic 2019 season came to its end. The Dukes added a field goal for insurance in the third and another in the fourth while Weber State scored a late touchdown from Constantine to Ty MacPherson that was little more than cosmetic in the loss. It was far too little, too late.

While the Wildcats were able to improve on a slow start on offense, they finished the contest with only 256 yards of offense compared to 467 by James Madison. Both teams played a clean game, with both sides going without a turnover.

The Wildcats’ 2019 season finishes with an 11-4 record. In the program’s centennial season of gridiron action, Weber State collected a number of accolades and milestones, including a third-consecutive Big Sky Conference title. In the playoffs, where the Wildcats were given the 3-seed, they managed to advance to the final four with victories over Kennesaw State and Montana. 

For his efforts during the season, defensive end Jonah Williams earned Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year honors and was named to several All-America teams. In total, the Wildcats had 14 players named to all-conference teams.

The FCS title game between North Dakota State and James Madison will be a matchup of the division’s last two national champions. The Bison won back-to-back titles in 2017 and 2018 while the Dukes took the previous championship in 2016.