OGDEN — Never in Weber State football’s 57-year history had the program qualified for the playoffs in three consecutive seasons until the 2018 squad delivered the Wildcats to a second straight shared Big Sky title and a third straight playoff berth.
That’s largely because of its senior class — players like Landon Stice, LeGrand Toia, Iosua Opeta, Jordan and Parker Preator, Keilan Benjamin, Jawian Harrison, Darryl Denby and more.
The playoffs are no longer new to these players. Saturday’s contest against Southeast Missouri State will be their fifth playoff game in the last three seasons.
“The playoffs are a whole other level. It’s a different attitude and intensity compared to the regular season,” senior defensive lineman Filipe Sitake said.
Playoff teams are battle-tested and usually can win at home (SEMO is 6-0 at home) and on the road (where SEMO is 3-3).
“It’s the top 24 teams in the country — now it’s the top 16. Every team is good at this point,” senior running back Treshawn Garrett said.
The seniors have wisdom to impart to teammates about the playoff journey.
“I’ve been able to talk to the younger guys about how important film is, because you don’t play against these teams ever unless it’s in the playoffs,” Sitake said. “They run schemes a little differently than we’ve seen compared to who we played in the regular season, so it’s important to watch film and double up on film.”
A single-elimination playoff could bring an extra level of nerves, though Weber State has talked about each regular-season game like a playoff game since the Wildcats lost at Northern Arizona in early October.
How do you balance the excitement with execution?
“It’s all about a controlled, poised, hyped attitude,” Sitake said.
“When you’re in the zone and your hyped, you still have that focus. Being a leader on the team, when you see younger players who are overhyped or missing assignments, you can tell them to calm down and get back to where they need to be and in that zone. That’s how you have to control it.
“But we really haven’t had that problem very much, of younger guys missing assignments and not doing the little things, because our awesome coach really harps on that and how important it is to respect the process.”
Last year’s gut-wrenching quarterfinal loss at James Madison left many players wanting more and, on the back of a dominant defense, the words “national” and “championship” have not been avoided at Stewart Stadium. But that, too, is a balancing act.
“With us being the No. 2 seed, we know we should be one of the teams that could compete for a national championship. If we prepare right and stay focused, we will compete for a national championship,” said Garrett, who is ready to go for the playoffs after missing several games with a hamstring injury.
“We keep that in the back of our mind as a focus, but we have to focus on our game Saturday,” he said. “You can’t take anything lightly, every team is good. Even last week, according to everybody else, Stony Brook was supposed to (beat SEMO). So you have to be prepared and go into every game fully into it and know what you have to do to win.”
The game kicks off at 2 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at WeberStateTickets.com or at the stadium before the game. Those with cable subscriptions can watch the football game on WatchESPN (app or website).