OGDEN — Both programs are looking to making history when the Maine Black Bears visit Weber State on Friday night.
Each school is looking for its first-ever trip to the national semifinals.
The FCS quarterfinal home game is a first for Weber State (10-2) after losing a road quarterfinal at James Madison last season. When the lights turn on for the big matchup, they’ll illuminate a game being carried on ESPN2.
“When expectations are high, that’s what you look forward to as an athlete is are these big games you get to play in. That’s what you train for in the offseason,” sophomore quarterback Jake Constantine said. “It’s definitely the most fun part of the season.”
Maine (9-3) is the tournament’s No. 7 seed after winning the Colonial Athletic Association championship by squeaking past No. 17 Elon 27-26 to close the regular season. The Black Bears won an FBS road game at Western Kentucky while losing to Central Michigan, Yale and William & Mary.
The Black Bears make a 2,100-mile flight to Ogden after defeating Jacksonville State 55-27 at home in the second round, forcing the Gamecocks into three early turnovers and capitalizing for a big win in the cold.
“They play in the cold, just like us. I think they’ll be prepared for that,” Constantine said. “I think they have one of the best defenses we’ll play all year. Coach (Jay) Hill compared them to Utah, so it’s definitely going to be a good competition.”
In many ways, the teams appear to be looking in a mirror at each other.
That defense allows 21.6 points per game (Weber State allows 21.0). Weber’s rushing attack of Josh Davis and Treshawn Garrett will have tough sledding; Maine allows just 74.5 ground yards per contest, second-best in the country, and 295.3 per game overall.
The Black Bears (26) are nearly as good at forcing turnovers as the Wildcats (29).
Maine’s offense scores 27 points and gains 343 yards per game; Weber’s scores 29 points and gains 325 yards per contest. Each team has a kick returner — Rashid Shaheed and Earnest Edwards — with two kickoffs returned for touchdowns this season.
Maine looks to redshirt freshman Ramon Jefferson (884 yards, 5.7 per carry) to tote the rock while WSU primarily hands off to redshirt freshman Josh Davis (1,350 yards, 5.6 per carry).
Chris Ferguson leads a Maine passing game with similar production as Weber State’s: Ferguson completes 58 percent of his passes for 188 yards per game; Constantine completes 64 percent of his passes for 176 yards per game.
“They’re very good. They’re solid on both sides of the ball and really thrive on a great defense,” Hill said. “Their offense does a good job of taking care of the ball and they’re productive. We’ve got our work cut out for us, for sure.”
The game is scheduled to kick off at 6 p.m. Friday. The winner advances to the semifinals to play the winner of Saturday’s quarterfinal between Eastern Washington and UC Davis.
“We love it. Football is our joy, so just to have the opportunity to come out here to have fun, we all take that to heart,” WSU senior linebacker LeGrand Toia said of preparing for the matchup. “We always tell each other it could be our last, so practice like it.”
This is the first all-time meeting between the schools.
ODDS & PREDICTIONS
Betting service 5Dimes has Weber State as a seven-point favorite. Combining that with the over/under of 48.5, that line expects a score of about 28-21.
Jeff Sagarin maintains a computer prediction and rating model for college football (once used in the BCS formula) that includes both FBS and FCS teams. Ratings can be used to mathematically provide a prediction for a given matchup.
Weber State rates at No. 107 (out of 255 Division-I teams) and Maine is No. 129.
Using the associated team ratings and values for home-field advantage, Sagarin’s formula favors WSU by 8.5 points.