OGDEN — Right in the thick of first-round playoff games around the country, the lights flipped on Saturday evening at Stewart Stadium to reveal skiffs of snow on the hillsides on the upper east benches of Ogden.
Despite a first-round bye, No. 2 seed Weber State was there in the cold — some, like defensive end Jonah Williams, seemingly in less clothes than at a normal practice with moderate temperatures — knocking off the rust of the Thanksgiving holiday.
“We used this as our first-round game today,” head coach Jay Hill said. “I wanted to be in the cold and see how our guys handled it. There are some things to clean up. I’m glad we got some of those cob webs out. I thought this is exactly what we needed.”
The past two seasons, WSU has not practiced on the Saturday during a bye week, and, for whatever reason, has lost the next game — both the only slip-ups of otherwise great seasons, by program standards. The 2017 game saw a tough rivalry loss to Southern Utah and this season, a carnival of turnovers meant WSU lost at Northern Arizona.
After his team watched Sunday’s playoff selection show, Hill told his team of the bye-week schedule change: “We haven’t been good coming off byes. We’re going to be great coming off this bye.”
So Saturday, after getting Wednesday through Friday off, the Wildcats went through a spirited practice of 11-on-11 series with the temperature hovering around the freezing threshold.
Though it’s a 2 p.m. kickoff, it’s about what the weather should be like on Dec. 1 when the Wildcats host Southeast Missouri State in the second round.
“We came out here, had to shovel the field and get it all cleared off and I thought the players handled it awesome,” Hill said, noting that after the first few minutes of next week’s game, the bye week “should be a huge advantage.”
Senior quarterback Rathen Ricedorff said the team is excited to get going.
“We feel like we’re in a great position. We love that we have home-field advantage throughout ... and of course, our mentality is one game at a time. Southeast Missouri State is our first game, so that’s who we’re preparing for. We’ve got to beat them and find out who we play after that.”