OGDEN — Aside from a drive here or there, Weber State football’s early-season offense looked like everything was a struggle.
Consider what Weber State brought into that game and the early part of the season.
WSU had a sophomore-heavy offense with few seniors. It had a quarterback derby featuring a senior transfer (Rathen Ricedorff) who had to skip a season, a sophomore coming off a season-ending ACL injury the year before (Jake Constantine) and a redshirt freshman (Kaden Jenks); the senior dropped out of the race with a hamstring injury and the sophomore was slowly working into game shape.
It also was without one of its few upperclassmen in junior offensive lineman Mo Cannon.
Oh, and there was a new offense to learn, implement and refine with the departure of Fesi Sitake and the hire of Dave Schramm at offensive coordinator.
“I said ... at the start of the year that we just needed to find ways to win as they continued to get more veteran and more experienced,” head coach Jay Hill said.
Those wins did come as the offense figured things out. A 24-point outing was enough to get a first win at Cal Poly. WSU totaled four scoring drives thanks to Josh Davis rushing for 177 yards in his debut.
Finding more ways to win, WSU scored a 27-10 win over South Dakota despite one offensive touchdown (four field goals, one defensive score).
The offense sputtered in a loss at Northern Arizona — a 28-24 decision where defense and special teams delivered short fields the offense couldn’t cash in — then did just enough to score one TD in a 14-6 win over Eastern Washington.
Things were slow until a game-turning drive against Montana State where Kaden Jenks saw his season end but the offense, in some ways, saw its season begin.
Constantine finished a drive Jenks started before the latter broke his leg to cut Weber’s deficit to 17-14 at halftime. That drive was the turning point of the game, said MSU head coach Jeff Choate. Hill said the team definitely rallied for Jenks.
It was also a season-long turning point for the offense.
Weber went on to score 34 points that day, then 35 more at North Dakota, and the offense became much more deliberate and controlling in wins of 12, 13 and 13 points to close the regular season.
“As a competitor, when you’re not scoring almost every drive, you’re getting mad no matter what,” Constantine said. “It’s tough not putting up a lot of points but I knew sooner or later we were going to get big games like North Dakota and … just start putting up a lot of points. It was just us being patient.
“You’re going to have your aches and bruises when you’re going through a new offense. I think we were mature about how we were handling it and now it’s paying off.”
The payoff continued Saturday as the Wildcats scored 48 points, including 41 on offense, in a playoff win over Southeast Missouri State.
“This is the kind of the team we knew we had, we just had to get them experienced enough to go out there and cut it loose, and let us open up the playbook the way we wanted to,” Hill said.
Constantine, who threw for four touchdowns in the playoff win, said he hasn’t doubted that leadership from Hill.
“There’s nobody better than coach Hill, in my opinion … he’s the best coach in the FCS by far,” he said. “It’s easy to follow a guy who’s a leader like that. You don’t even think twice about following him.”
Constantine began a personal revolution on that fateful Oct. 20 game when Jenks went down just before halftime.
In 5.5 games before that, Constantine had a 55 percent completion rate with six touchdowns and five interceptions — averaging about 119 yards, one touchdown and one interception per game.
In the 6.5 games after Jenks’ injury, Constantine has a 69.8 percent completion rate with 10 touchdowns and two interceptions. His average game looks like this: 18 of 26 for 197 yards, 1.5 touchdowns and 0.3 interceptions.
What has he learned?
“Just how to not take anything for granted and keep fighting through adversity. At the beginning of the year, I didn’t feel 100 percent when I was in. I was just staying patient with myself and I knew sooner or later I was going to click,” Constantine said.
“I wasn’t worried about the whole knee injury thing. I knew sooner or later I was going to be able to do what I do best.”
Constantine leads the Wildcats against No. 7-seed Maine in the quarterfinals at 6 p.m. Friday. The Black Bears allow 21.6 points per game, 22nd best in the country, and a ninth-best 295.3 yards allowed.
The game will air nationally on ESPN2.