MISSOULA, Montana — Throughout a coaching career that began in 1988, Bobby Hauck has played the same team twice in the same season five times. Montana’s head football coach remembers every one of the matchups and rematches.
In 1988, Hauck’s first year as an assistant on Don Read’s staff, the Grizzlies took down Idaho 26-17 to win the Little Brown Stein. In the Division I-AA playoffs later that season, the Vandals got revenge. The top-ranked team in the country posted a 38-19 victory to end Montana’s second-ever playoff appearance after one game.
During Hauck’s first stint as the head coach at Montana between 2003 and 2009, he played the same team in the regular season and the playoffs three times. The Griz lost 41-29 at No. 1 Sam Houston State in the third game of the 2004 season. UM posted a 34-13 win over the Bearkats three months later in the semifinals of the FCS Playoffs to earn a spot in the 2004 nation title game.
In 2005, a ninth-ranked Montana team took down No. 3 Cal Poly 36-27. The Mustangs beat the Griz five weeks later 35-21 in the first round of the FCS Playoffs.
And in 2008, the No. 2 Grizzlies lost 45-28 at Weber State the first Saturday of October. That loss was the only Big Sky Conference loss of the last four seasons under Hauck last decade. The Griz avenged the defeat with a 24-13 win over the Wildcats in the quarterfinals of the playoffs. The Griz advanced to the FCS national title game that season as well.
In 2016 during Hauck’s time as the special teams coordinator on Rocky Long’s staff at San Diego State, the Aztecs lost 34-33 to Wyoming in Laramie. Two weeks later, SDSU posted a 27-24 win at War Memorial Stadium in the Mountain West championship game.
“I do remember. All of them,” Hauck said. “It’s really kind of unusual in college football. It’s just not common. I’ve coached a long time. I asked our staff this morning who had done it and really only the guys who were part of our staff here had. It’s really unusual.”
Hauck’s No. 6 Grizzlies face that challenge once again on Friday night in Ogden, Utah. The Griz came off a first-round bye to thrash Southeastern Louisiana 73-28 on Saturday afternoon in Missoula. No. 3 Weber State emerged with a 26-20 win over Kennesaw State to advance to the quarterfinals for the third year in a row.
The Griz pounded Weber 35-16 in Missoula on November 16. That UM victory snapped WSU’s 13-game Big Sky winning streak. It also served as the Wildcats’ only Big Sky loss this season and only their third in the last three seasons.
“We are excited to get a win over a really fine football team last weekend and it’s good to be back in the quarterfinals for the first time in a long time,” Hauck said as his team prepares for its first Elite Eight appearance since 2011. “The fact that we have a short week of preparation coupled with the fact that it’s finals week will be difficult in terms of our preparation but I expect out guys to lock in and find a way to overcome that.
“Playing a team the second time in a year is always a challenge. In reviewing our last game with Weber State, I didn’t think we played particularly well. We need to play better than last time in order to win this game.”
Montana exploded to a 21-3 lead early in the second quarter and led 35-3 late in the third quarter against a team that had not faced a deficit of more than seven points all season. Yet Hauck said his Griz still have plenty to clean up if they want to punch a ticket to the Final Four.
“We need to play better than last time, need to execute better and really go out and play our best game of the season,” Hauck said. “We made a ton of mistakes and didn’t execute very cleanly I don’t think.
“It’s a short week so we will try to just get ahead and hopefully, as we get into the game, the countdown will be identical to a normal week. Today, we will skip Monday and go to Tuesday.
Location: Ogden, Utah
Founded: 1889. The coeducational, public university began as the Weber Stake Academy, then changed its name to the Weber Academy, the Weber Normal College and Weber College, becoming a junior college in 1939 and Weber State College in 1962. The school earned University status in 1991.
Enrollment: The university has 26,681 students and an endowment of $101.6 million.
Stadium: Stewart Stadium. The picturesque stadium along the Wasatch Front was named Wildcat Stadium from its opening in the 1950s until its renaming for Elizabeth Dee Shaw Stewart in 1998. The multi-purpose stadium holds 17,312 and is sits 4,760 feet above sea level. The Wildcats averaged 8,799 fans per their six home games last season. This season, WSU has drawn an average of 7,583 in its seven home games.
A total of 5,422 fans came to WSU’s 26-20 win over Kennesaw State in the second round of the FCS playoffs last weekend.
THE TEAM (7-1 IN BIG SKY PLAY, 10-3 OVERALL)
The Coach: Jay Hill, sixth season at Weber State. As has been well chronicled, since Hill turn over at Weber, the Wildcats have incrementally improved each season. If Weber State takes the next step this season, it will mean the first Final Four berth in the FCS Playoffs in school history. And that’s what is on the line Saturday in Ogden with the Griz coming to town.
Hill played Ron McBride at Utah before beginning his coaching career on McBride’s staff in 2002 with the Utes. Hill took over a Weber program McBride led from 2005 until 2011 that was in shambles. John L. Smith’s quick stop that led to Jody Sears’ brief two-year tenure gave Hill a team with two wins in each of the previous two seasons.
“You see a lot of carryover from Coach Hill’s days at Utah so the scheme is good, very solid, very sound in everything they do,” Hauck said earlier this season. “They play hard, they tackle well. That usually lends itself to good defense.”
Hill’s first team won two games in 2014. The Wildcats had a winning record, including a 5-3 mark in Big Sky Conference play, in 2015, posting their first win at Washington-Grizzly Stadium since 1987 during that 6-5 campaign. Weber made the playoffs for the first time since 2009 in 2016 and ripped off 11 wins en rout to a share of the Big Sky title and a berth in quarterfinals of the FCS playoffs in 2017.
In 2018, Weber shared the league title with Eastern Washington and UC Davis, marking the second time in WSU history that the school has won consecutive Big Sky titles. As the No. 2 seed in the playoffs, Weber State beat Southeast Missouri State in the Round of 16 but lost 23-18 to No. 7 Maine in the quarterfinals.
Weber State had its 13-game Big Sky winning streak snapped in Missoula earlier this season. But the Wildcats have still won 29 of their last 35 games in league play.
Hill is 46-29 at WSU, including 34-14 in Big Sky Conference play.
THE OFFENSE – Players to Watch
Josh Davis, running back, 5-9, 195, sophomore — The 2016 Utah Gatorade Player of the Year was one of the top recruits in the Jay Hill era. He would’ve debuted for the Wildcats in 2017 but he suffered a season-ending knee injury in Weber State’s first game against Montana Western.
No matter. Davis still ripped apart the Big Sky in his first year as the go-to ball carrier in Weber’s backfield last season. The explosive, tough and durable runner became the first Wildcat ever to receive national freshmen honors. He was the Big Sky Freshman of the Year, a first-team All-Big Sky and All-American selection and the Jerry Rice Award winner as the FCS National Freshman of the Year last season.
He did it by rushing for 1,362 yards and nine touchdowns on 250 carries. He had seven games of over 100 yards and two more of over 200, including a season-high 225 yards against Southern Utah. He averaged 113.5 rushing yards per game, the 12th-most in the country and the third-most in the league. He also had 13 catches for 193 yards and 14 punt returns for 224 yards and a touchdown. His 1,779 yards were the most ever by a Wildcat freshman.
This season, Davis had 134 carries for 901 yards (6.7 yards per carry) and nine touchdowns entering the last matchup with Montana. But he suffered a head injury that cost him most of the game against North Dakota and limited him to nine carries for 26 yards against Montana. He bounced back to rush for 88 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries in a 38-10 win over Idaho State to help WSU sew up its third straight Big Sky title.
He had 11 carries for 36 yards and a score last week against Kennesaw State, pushing his season totals to 1,051 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. He has also caught 25 passes for 131 yards.
Earlier this season, Davis rushed for 328 yards and four touchdowns in a 51-28 win over Northern Arizona. The total served as the fifth-best in Big Sky history, a Weber State school record and the most in the league since 2011 when C.J. Tuckett rushed for 211 yards. In that same game, Kris Jackson rushed for 111 yards and three touchdowns, a perfect example of how Weber’s rushing attack is not a one-trick pony.
Jackson, a 5-foot-10, 235-pound redshirt freshman, has scored 10 rushing touchdowns this season. Kevin Smith, who rushed for 562 yards and six touchdowns as a sophomore, has bounced back from an injury that cost him all of last season. This season, he has surpassed 100 yards three times, including a 104-yard effort last week against North Dakota. He has 626 yards and two touchdowns this season.
Jake Constantine, quarterback, 6-2, 200, junior — The former Boise State and Ventura junior college transfer went back and forth with Kaden Jenks for reps at quarterback last season until Weber State took on Montana State. In that game, Constantine entered to lead the Wildcats to a come-from-behind 34-24 victory after Jenks suffered a gruesome injury.
Constantine led Weber to five straight wins after that comeback, helping WSU earn the No. 2 seed and home field advantage for two playoff games. But he also threw four interceptions in a 23-18 loss to Maine in the quarterfinals of the FCS playoffs. Constantine finished the season with 2,205 yards and 18 touchdowns.
This season, Constantine went down with an injury late in WSU’s 41-24 win over Cal Poly in a non-conference contest. Jenks threw for 219 yards and two touchdowns in a 29-17 win over now-No. 4 Northern Iowa in September.
Constantine has been Weber’s starter for all of conference play, although he got knocked out of the Montana game in the third quarter. That ended a day that saw him complete 18-of-34 passes for 170 yards and three interceptions. Montana rolled up four sacks that afternoon, constantly pressuring Constantine and Jenks.
Constantine has completed 63.2 percent of his passes for 1,967 yards and 12 touchdowns compared to 10 picks this season.
Devon Cooley, wide receiver, 6-1, 170, sophomore — Last week against Kennesaw, Cooley caught seven passes for 114 yards and a touchdown. He extended Weber’s streak of 100-yard receivers to six straight games. WSU only had five 100-yard receiving games in 2017 and 2018 combined.
This season, Cooley has 56 passes for 691 yards and five touchdowns, all best on the team.
Cooley played sparingly in the first matchup with Montana after suffering an injury in the first half. Cooley, Constantine, Davi and tight end Justin Malone all suffered injuries against the Griz.
Cooley started the 100-yard streak with seven catches for 104 yards and a touchdown against UC Davis. Ty MacPherson had five catches for 117 yards and a score in a 36-20 win over No. 6 Sacramento State. David Ames had six catches for 105 yards and a score in a 30-27 win over North Dakota. MacPherson caught 11 passes for 162 yards and a score against the Griz. Ames had four catches for 140 yards and a touchdown against Idaho State.
THE DEFENSE — Players to watch
Jonah Williams, defensive end, 6-5, 285, senior — The 2016 Hero Sports Freshman All-American has continued fulfilling his potential, earning second-team All-Big Sky honors as a sophomore in 2017 and first-team honors last season.
This season, the preseason All-Big Sky selection shared Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year honors with Montana linebacker Dante Olson. In November, he moved onto the Buck Buchanan Award watch list.
Williams has been solid in his assignments and his role on a defense with a reputation as the Big Sky’s best and one of the top units in the FCS even if his stats have not been gaudy. He had 53 tackles, four tackles for loss, and two sacks as a freshman. As a sophomore, he had six tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks among his 37 tackles. Last season, he had seven tackles for loss but no sacks.
He has almost doubled his career sack total during his senior year. He has 54 tackles, 6.5 sacks and 9.0 tackles for loss. He also has a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries, giving him three each in his career.
He had three sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss in WSU’s 19-13 loss at Nevada. He also had two sacks in a 29-14 win over Southern Utah and a sack last week against North Dakota.
Since then, he has received extra attention across the board. He has three solo tackles and half a tackle for loss among his 11 total tackles over the last three games.
Adam Rodriguez, defensive end, 6-2, 245, senior — Rodriguez did not play as early as Williams consistently but has had a more sharp upward trajectory since breaking into the lineup.
As a sophomore, Rodriguez notched 58 tackles, second on the Wildcats, including eight tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. Last year, those totals spiked to 61 total tackles, 15 tackles for loss and seven sacks to earn first-team all-conference honors.
Rodriguez missed the game against Idaho this season and has played in a pretty consistent rotation with sophomore George Tarlas this season. But Rodriguez still has 48 tackles, 6.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss in 2019. He was a second-team All-Big Sky selection.
When Rodriguez was not available, Tarlas stepped in and had two sack-strip-fumbles to earn Big Sky Defensive Player of the Week honors against Idaho. Tarlas has nine sacks this season and earned third-team all-league.
Jared Schiess, defensive tackle, 6-3, 300, junior — In his second season as a starter, Schiess developed into one of the most dominant interior defensive linemen in the Big Sky.
Schiess had at least one tackle for loss in seven games this season and 10.5 overall among his 50 tackles. He has 2.5 sacks this season. he earned first-team All-Big Sky honors for a Weber defensive line that landed four players on the all-conference team.
Preston Smith, safety, 5-11, 185, junior — Smith spent his sophomore year backing up first-team All-Big Sky seniors Jordan Preator and Jawian Harrison. Those two earned the distinction for the Wildcats last season on a unit that landed Williams, Rodriguez, Toia, Stice, the aforementioned safety pair, cornerback Keilan Benjamin and special teamer Brady May on the first-team all-league defensive unit.
Even with the logjam in front of him, Smith notched 28 tackles in each of his first two seasons.
This season, he has already surpassed his career total, piling up 77 tackles and 6.5 tackles for loss and an interception so far as a junior.
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