More passion, ‘swagger’ help Weber State football begin playoff run
The video from field level Saturday helps tell the story of Weber State football taking its first step on a path that can allow no more losses if the Wildcats are to make the FCS Playoffs for the sixth straight season.
Weber State trailed 21-20 in its last shot for a quality win at No. 2 Eastern Washington, and its toughest test in a string of five games to finish the season that, in almost every scenario, require the Wildcats to win them all to make the postseason.
After a third-down incompletion to open the fourth quarter, Weber lines up to punt at the Eastern 43 but, even to the relative shock of those who know the depth of WSU’s array of fakes, runs its third fake punt of the game.
Punter Mackenzie Morgan takes the snap and rolls to his right, floating a pass to defensive tackle Jared Schiess. On the field-level video, a surge is heard from the Weber sideline when Schiess secures the pass with open field ahead of him.
Then his sideline erupts into near chaos as Schiess put his shoulders down and barrels over EWU’s punt returner, Efton Chism, who had the unenviable task of being the guy to get upfield and stop the play.
By that time, though, Schiess had picked up 20 yards. Six plays later, Kris Jackson ran in a touchdown, Weber led 27-21 and never trailed again on the way to a 35-34 win.
“The sideline was dialed in on just about every single play. When you feel the energy coming off the sideline after you make a play, it kind of gives you the belief like OK, yeah, we can keep going,” said Jackson, who rushed for 93 yards and three touchdowns. “Everybody kind of dials in and believes like OK, we can do this.”
Jackson said this was present at kickoff, going into the locker room after a fake punt helped WSU extend a field-goal drive to make it 14-13 at halftime, and after the game.
“I do believe there was more passion and energy on the sideline,” WSU head coach Jay Hill said. “They played the whole game with a legit playoff swagger, which was big.”
When you’re 2-4 with five games left, every week is another round of the playoffs.
It’s a sentiment Hill has spoken before, though in past seasons it’s been for analysis of Weber State’s conference championship hopes — after losing one game, every week is a playoff to win the conference crown.
With two losses in league play, it seems WSU’s string of four straight conference titles will end. But, can a seemingly “down” year result in a trip to the playoffs?
Next is a trip to Idaho State this weekend. The Bengals claimed a home stunner over ranked UC Davis but is otherwise winless this season.
“I’m kind of glad we’re in this situation because we need to bring our focus and attention every week,” Hill said. “In a way, our playoff started (in previous seasons) about the same time they are now.
“So we’re in that situation again. We’ve handled that situation well in past years. We just handled it great going up to the red turf at Eastern and I suspect that this team will do the same this week.”
After the trip to Pocatello, Weber hosts Portland State, travels to Southern Utah, then hosts Northern Colorado to end the season. Those remaining four opponents are currently 5-14 in league play.
The goal at the end of the path is attainable, and not terribly treacherous. Should the Wildcats travel to the finish line with only W’s, a 7-3 record against FCS teams is a virtual lock for a playoff berth.
But it will still require Weber to play like it did at Eastern Washington, or like it did in completely dominant wins over Cal Poly and Dixie State. One loss means a ceiling of a six overall wins, which means missing the playoffs in most, if not all, possibilities.
As is the common tactic in sports, traveling the path to that end must be done one stepping stone at a time.
“Just taking it week by week, not looking too far forward, not worrying about the playoffs,” Jackson said. “Just worrying about the team we have in front of us and executing in practice, lifts, film, just doing everything we can to prepare for this week in front of us. And after this week, we’ll focus on the week after that.”