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‘Not something we hide from’: Knowing mistakes, Weber State football gets another playoff rematch in MSU

By Brett Hein - Standard-Examiner | Nov 30, 2022

ROBERT CASEY, Weber State Athletics

Montana State's offensive line, left, and Weber State's defense, right, line up during a Big Sky Conference game Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022, in Bozeman, Mont.

Weber State football hoped in some way on playoff selection day that the bracket might allow them to get a rematch against Montana State.

While the second round seemed an unlikely time for that, the powers that be filled the matchups in a way that 1 p.m. Saturday is said rematch.

The Bobcats (10-1) will welcome the Wildcats (10-2) back to Bozeman for the second time this season.

“I wanted this matchup because I think they’re a great team. I really believe this: if you can beat Montana State you can beat anybody,” WSU head coach Jay Hill said.

It’s the third time in Hill’s tenure that his Wildcats will get a playoff rematch against a Big Sky team they lost to in the regular season. In both of the previous two (Southern Utah in 2017 second round and Montana in 2019 quarterfinals), Weber State won the playoff game.

But this one has a different flavor. In the previous two, WSU did not lose — at least not to the same degree — due to massive, self-inflicted errors as it did in October’s regular-season matchup at MSU, a 43-38 loss.

“We left so much on the field that first time we played. I want to go in there and play a clean game and see how it falls. We did not do that last time,” Hill said. “We had way crazy, uncharacteristic special teams errors, we had defensive errors that we’re not used to doing. Offense performed well in spurts but not consistently. So we need to go in there, play a clean game, let it rip and see how it falls.”

Not that anyone forgot, but, like LeBron James counting in Miami, long snapper Grant Sands sent not one, not two, but four punt snaps sailing over the head of punter Jack Burgess, and all four rolled into the end zone for a two-point safety awarded to Montana State.

And in all four resulting post-safety possessions, Montana State converted short-field touchdown drives.

The Wildcats are acknowledging this will make the rematch trip different.

“I talked to Grant Sands today,” Hill said Tuesday. “I said ‘Grant, you know you’re going to go in there and the players are going to be talking smack, the fans are going to be on you and we all know what happened last time.’ He smiled at me and said ‘coach, I know that.'”

It’s one of the many ways WSU feels like it has a good matchup, as tough as Montana State is.

“This is not something we hide from. We understand that we made some costly mistakes last time but we also understand with all those crazy mistakes and everything that went against us in that game, we still had a chance,” Hill said, referring to his team’s late drive that ended on a dropped pass. “We were 20 yards away from winning that game at the end. That’s the reality. We’re going to go in there and make a few more plays than we did last time.”

Other than that, Weber State expects things to be the same. MSU was 60 fans shy of a sellout in October, for example.

“They played in it, it was a packed house, it’s not like they can fit a lot more people than were in there last time,” Hill said. “How we handle it can be better.”

We’ll see what the weather holds. In October, the game was played in a rain-soaked, mid-40s environment. Saturday may be drier, but colder (the current forecast calls for a high of 27 degrees).

Hill doesn’t believe being the loser in the regular-season game makes much of a difference for his team.

“I don’t think there’s any advantage there, for us or them. They know us, we know them. It’s not like the second time, the loser has an advantage the winner doesn’t have. They’ve got the same film we have,” Hill said. “They’re going through their practice plans, we’re going through ours. There’s no advantage there.

“The thing we have is hopefully our players have a little bit of a chip on their shoulder. We need to go in there and prove we can play a clean game against a very good opponent. That’s all it is about.”

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