OGDEN — For the third straight season, Weber State football (8-3, 6-1 Big Sky) enters the final week of the regular season tied for first place, readying to face Idaho State (3-8, 2-5) and needing a win to clinch at least a share of the Big Sky championship.
The last two times, Jay Hill and company have hoisted a trophy after the clock hit triple zeroes. It's a memory the Wildcats want to repeat one more time.
"One of my favorite (career) moments was last year at the Idaho State game ... we had to win that game to become conference champs and it was such a big game because we were able to be back-to-back Big Sky champs," senior offensive lineman Xavier Stilson said. "And being part of the starting offensive line where I wasn’t the year before that, that was just cool. We were super excited as repeat champs."
What's considered by some as a rivalry couldn't be more disparate. Idaho State's last win in Ogden came in a 26-22 decision in 1984.
Since that game, Weber State is 31-3 against ISU with an average margin of victory of 15.7 points in those 31 wins.
The Bengals are reeling after starting Big Sky play with a 2-1 mark that included blowout home wins over Portland State (51-24) and North Dakota (55-20). Since then, ISU has lost five straight games.
In their last two FCS games, the Bengals mustered just 20 points against Northern Colorado and five points against Eastern Washington, both opponents who otherwise average allowing 38.6 and 33.5 points per game, respectively.
Junior quarterback Matt Struck threw for 739 yards (369.5 per game) and 11 touchdowns with no interceptions in those big wins over PSU and UND. And, early in the season, ISU battled to a 13-6 road loss at Northern Iowa.
Weber State is using those best examples in preparing for Idaho State.
"All you have to do is look at the Portland State game and the game they played against North Dakota and it’s very obvious these guys can put up points and can shut people down," Hill said. "And the Northern Iowa game, they were right there with one of the better teams in the country."
In nine other games outside ISU's two conference wins, Struck averages 172 yards per game and has totaled nine touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Four of those interceptions have been returned for touchdowns. Two more were thrown into the end zone in a six-point loss to Northern Colorado, and ISU has the worst pass-efficiency offense in the Big Sky.
Defensively, the Bengals have recently given up 45 points to Idaho, 59 to Southern Utah and 48 to Eastern Washington, none of which will be playoff teams.
Even in admitting ISU's struggles, Hill said Weber State isn't about to take the Bengals lightly given their chance to spoil WSU's title hopes.
"There’s definitely motivation. Everybody wants to end the season on a positive. These guys have the opportunity to end on a win," Hill said. "The reality is that when the playoffs start, only one team gets to end on a win. These guys get an opportunity to do that and we’ve got to fight against that."
Idaho State has three receivers averaging at least 50 receiving yards per game with solid playmaking ability, as evidenced by their yards-per-reception averages: Tanner Conner (16.9 ypr), Michael Dean (16.3) and Mitch Gueller (14.7). Ty Flanagan averages 89.5 rushing yards per game and Malakai Rango adds 56.4.
Defensively, senior linebacker Kody Graves and senior defensive back Adkin Aguirre are key playmakers.
Idaho State brings a middle-of-the-pack run defense (171.1 yards allowed per game) in the Big Sky and is in the bottom third in pass defense (283.5 yards).
The game is scheduled to kick off at 2 p.m. Saturday.
Eleven Sports (DirecTV channel 623) has the TV broadcast, with local announcer Jon Oglesby on the call with James Cowser — the former Davis High, Southern Utah and Oakland Raiders linebacker — as color commentator. That broadcast will also stream online at WatchBigSky.com and on the PlutoTV app channel 535. A radio call will air on 1430 AM KLO with Steve Klauke and Jerry Graybeal on the call.
ODDS & PREDICTIONS
Sportsbook 5dimes shows Weber State as a 20.5-point favorite in the contest. Combined with the over-under of 54.5, the odds suggest a WSU win of about 38-17.
Jeff Sagarin’s famed rating and prediction model ranks all of Division I, both FBS and FCS. Weber State is ranked 101st and Idaho State 189th (out of 256 teams). His model predicts a Weber State win of 23 points.