CEDAR CITY — With a smile on his face, Jay Hill yelled to congratulate his players and was doused with ice water in 50-degree weather.
Even doused in cold, the smile stayed on his face. His Wildcats did it.
Weber State avenged its lone Big Sky loss and shut down eighth-seeded Southern Utah 30-13 on Saturday night in Cedar City, advancing to the FCS quarterfinals.
“We left no doubt. I know that was their little mantra, but we flipped it on them,” Hill said. “That was what we wanted to do. We talked about that all week. This is their mantra, we’re going to flip on them. We’re going to leave no doubt.”
Stefan Cantwell threw 21 of 33 for 299 yards and two touchdowns, adding 105 rushing yards and a score to lead the historic Wildcat win. It’s the first team in school history to win two playoff games in the same season.
Running back Kevin Smith added 62 rushing yards and 81 receiving as an all-around threat. St. George native Drew Batchelor hauled in six catches for 98 yards, many at key times to continue Wildcat drives.
The Wildcats (11-2) scuffled on several trips inside the SUU 10 that kept it from being a complete blowout. But even with offensive mishaps, Weber State’s defense held Southern Utah to 73 yards in the final 47 minutes of play after Southern Utah (9-3) jumped to a 10-0 lead.
In all, WSU won the yardage battle 447-219.
“These guys got on our toes last time,” Hill said of SUU. “They got a great offensive scheme ... We kept it simple ... (We) played as good as any defense in the country those last 50 minutes.”
The Wildcats move on to face the No. 1 ranked and undefeated James Madison Dukes (12-0). That game is scheduled for 5 p.m. MST Friday, Dec. 8, and will air on ESPN2.
For Hill, a game against the best team in the nation is what he wants.
“We wanted the playoff win with a good opponent to prepare us for this game, we wanted Southern Utah in the second round,” Hill said. “And we want James Madison. This is a heck of a challenge for us. This is what we want right now. We’ll find out how good we are.”
With the game tied 13-13 at halftime, the Wildcats stepped on the throttle to open the second half.
On the second play, Cantwell hit rumbling tight end Tui Satuala for 44 yards up the middle of the field. That propelled a three-minute drive capped when Cantwell rushed for 5 yards and a 20-13 lead.
Weber’s rabid defense quickly got the ball back to Cantwell and company, and the right-handed senior hit Batchelor on consecutive completions of 29 and 13 yards to get the Wildcats to the SUU 11.
Two plays later, a diving Andrew Vollert hauled in a 10-yard score and eight minutes into the half, Weber State had a 27-13 lead.
A 20-yard rush from Smith keyed yet another Weber third-quarter march, but the Wildcats went for it on fourth-and-goal from the 1 and fumbled the snap.
Trey Tuttle punched in a 24-yard field goal with 8:12 left in the game for the final margin.
Smith and Cantwell then took the ball back with 4:55 remaining, rushed the Wildcats to the SUU 5 and drained the clock with a pair of kneel-downs.
“The defense played well all night, so I was just super excited because they kept giving us the ball,” Cantwell said. “To help the offense keep going on the field and scoring drives was an amazing feeling.”
Like they’ve done several times this season, the Wildcat defense started slow and the Thunderbirds took advantage. The result was Southern Utah scoring 10 points on its first two drives.
Southern Utah’s defense started strong, holding the Wildcats to a mere 19 yards of offense in the first quarter.
Weber State moved the football in the second quarter while its defense began to lock down, limiting SUU to 36 yards in the period.
That defense set up WSU with a 45-yard field. A 30-yard pass to Vollert put the Wildcats on the SUU 3. But Smith coughed up the football rushing on the next play and SUU recovered to maintain its 10-0 lead.
After forcing a three-and-out, Weber State used eight plays to finally find the end zone. Cantwell dropped a 20-yard pass to Batchelor to cut the deficit to 10-7 with 8:53 left in the half.
Another quick turn of possession resulted in a seven-play drive to the SUU 21 keyed by a 44-yard completion to Smith. But the drive stalled and Tuttle put through a 38-yard field goal to knot the score at 10.
The Wildcats appeared to grab a 13-10 halftime lead when Tuttle later kicked a 19-yarder. But with 37 seconds left, Cantwell threw an interception to Chance Bearnson who returned it to the WSU 13.
Still, the Weber State defense stood strong, holding the Thunderbirds to a field goal and the teams entered the halftime break tied 13-13.
The Thunderbirds didn’t sniff the end zone the rest of the way.
“We came out flat, but once we got that first three-and-out, we gained confidence and took over,” said defensive lineman Cardon Malan, who had three sacks for a total loss of 27 yards. “It was all game-planning. A few sacks were slant calls I got from the linebacker getting untouched.”
Southern Utah hosted a school-record 11,811 fans for the game.
Weber State’s 11 wins is best in school history.
Brett Hein contributed to this story.