Weber State football geared up for big-time matchup at No. 1 James Madison

Thursday , December 07, 2017 - 7:47 PM

BRANDON GARSIDE, Standard-Examiner Staff

OGDEN — Between a conference title and two playoff wins, Weber State football’s season will go down as the best to date, but head coach Jay Hill and his team will look to make it even more memorable Friday night as they look to take down No. 1 seed and defending national champion James Madison in the quarterfinals of the FCS Playoffs.

The Dukes (12-0, 8-0 CAA) are riding a 24-game winning streak, with their last loss coming against FBS opponent North Carolina in September 2016. With many factors in their favor including hosting the game in Virginia on a short week, the Dukes carry the advantage.

“It’s a great opportunity and we’re happy to be here. We’re not done yet though,” senior tight end Andrew Vollert said. “This is probably the biggest game in Weber State history. We’re excited for the opportunity and we’re ready to go.”


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Instead of being satisfied with this year’s impressive body of work, Hill hopes his Wildcats (11-2, 7-1 Big Sky) will give everything they’ve got against James Madison.

“We’re going into every game with the intention to win. We’re going to prepare that way. We don’t go into any game just hoping to play good,” Hill said. “If we’ve got to get them excited for this game, something’s wrong. This team’s mature, and I’m excited to see how they’ll respond to this.”

JMU head coach Mike Houston said his team’s biggest challenge will be containing quarterback Stefan Cantwell.

“I think he’s really the key to the offense,” Houston said. “I think he’ll be very composed. He’s got some great weapons around him. They have an outstanding tight end, solid receiver corps and two really good running backs.”

Much like the first-round game against Western Illinois, the Wildcats face a team similar to themselves in strengths and scheme — but JMU is the gold standard of defensive prowess in the FCS.

The Dukes tout the strongest scoring defense in the country, allowing a demoralizing 8.8 points per game. Their interception total of 24 and defensive pass efficiency of 78.96 are also the best in FCS.

“We’re going to have to be efficient running the ball. We’re going to have to be judicious on when we take our shots,” Hill said. “The throw game needs to be efficient. I don’t think we need to throw for 300 yards, but it needs to be efficient when we do,” Hill said. “They’re good, but our offense goes up against a really good defense every day in practice, so I’m excited to watch the matchup.”

In many games this season, the Wildcat defense has started slow, often resulting in an early deficit for the offense to overcome.

Senior tackle McKay Murphy acknowledges the issue.

“It’s something that we’ve got to fix. Whatever the issue is,” Murphy said. “Against the No. 1 team in the country, you can’t really go in and give up that first drive, because that might be what makes the difference in the game.”

The Dukes’ offense is led by senior quarterback Bryan Schor, who is efficient with his arm and makes teams pay with his legs.

“He’s got good pocket presence. He knows when to escape,” Hill said. “Last year, he was the Colonial offensive player of the year. This guy is decorated. He’s received a lot of awards. He’s a big-time guy.”

Kickoff is scheduled for 5 p.m. MST. The game will be broadcast live on ESPN2, streamed on WatchESPN.com (with a login) and a radio call will air on 1430 AM KLO.

Contact sports reporter Brandon Garside at bgarside@standard.net, on Twitter @BrandonGarside and on Facebook.com/BrandonGarsideSE.

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