The Thunderbirds have used the Wildcats’ incredible fourth-quarter comeback at Eccles Coliseum one year ago as motivation, coining “Leave No Doubt” as the theme for 2017.
SUU has just one FCS loss since blowing that 22-point lead against Weber State and had its revenge in October with a 32-16 win to reclaim the Beehive Bowl trophy in Ogden.
To the chagrin of Southern Utah fans, the two teams went on to share the Big Sky Conference title. SUU faithful made their displeasure clear on social media, saying their team’s win over the Wildcats earlier this season is the indication of who the true conference champion is.
The next step in the rivalry is monumental, perhaps its apex, as the co-champions will square off Saturday night in Cedar City in the second round of the FCS Playoffs.
No trophies are on the line this time, but one team will move on to the quarterfinals while the other goes home.
“There’s a lot riding on this for both teams. It is big and should be hyped,” WSU head coach Jay Hill said. “Rivalries are better when they’re played late in the year, in my opinion, because there is opportunity for a lot more riding on it. There is in this game. There’s a ton riding on this and it makes it bigger.”
The T-Birds and ‘Cats each lost one conference game, both of which came without their starting quarterbacks running the offense.
Weber State quarterback Stefan Cantwell has been the difference-maker for WSU this season and is eager to take the field against Southern Utah after leaving October’s matchup early in the second quarter with concussion-like symptoms.
“We’ve wanted to play them again because last time things had happened, and we knew that wasn’t us,” Cantwell said. “I feel like the last couple of games since we played them we’ve learned a lot as a team. We’ve grown as a team. It’s a good opportunity to give them a better shot than we did.”
According to Cantwell, Hill didn’t make much of the rivalry to his players when the teams met in the regular season and had his team approach the game like any other.
This week, Hill is telling his players to embrace it.
“Coach Hill, throughout the week, has been getting us juiced all week long about this game,” Cantwell said. “When you see him getting juiced for this game, how can you not get juiced for this game? How can you not get excited and prepare for what’s to come Saturday?”
The game is expected to tight. When comparing average margin of victory against common conference opponents — with the exception of Sacramento State (SUU lost to Sac State without quarterback Patrick Tyler) — Weber State has won by an average of 20 points and Southern Utah has won by an average of 14.6.
The Wildcats have the best defense in the Big Sky and Southern Utah is close behind. The Thunderbirds tout the second-best scoring offense in the conference, with Weber State not far off in fourth.
Statistically, it’s a back-and-forth down the list, making the game all the more difficult to predict.
In Hill’s opinion, his team will have to play at their highest level yet to be successful.
“We’re focused on us going down there and playing our best game of the year. If we do that, we’ll like the outcome,” he said. “We’ve just got to play our best game of the year.”
Kickoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. The game will stream on ESPN3/WatchESPN with a radio broadcast on 1430 AM KLO.