FCS Playoffs

Maine’s front four wreak havoc, Bears smother Weber State in FCS playoff win

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Weber State landed eight players on the Big Sky Conference’s first-team all-league defensive list. WSU head coach Jay Hill argued earlier this week that senior linebacker LeGrand Toia and Landon Stice should each be in consideration for national Defensive Player of the Year honors because of Toia’s physicality, Stice’s nose for the football and the duo’s ability to work in tandem.

In WSU’s 48-23 victory over Southeast Missouri State in the second round of the FCS playoffs last week, the second-seeded Wildcats snared four interceptions thanks in large part to an all-league secondary and bolstered Stice’s fifth of the season as the two-time Big Sky champions looked like they were peaking.

In the first FCS playoff quarterfinal in the history of the state of Utah, Maine turned the tables on the Wildcats. Maine Black Bears. The Colonial Athletic Association entered Friday night’s quarterfinal giving up 74.5 rushing yards per contest. The seventh seed lived up to that billing at Stewart Stadium, getting unrelenting penetration along the line of scrimmage and forcing Weber State to throw over and over again.

Maine gave -1 yard on the ground and intercepted WSU quarterback Jake Constantine four times on the way to a shocking 23-18 victory in the first upset of the 2018 playoffs.

BOX SCORE 

Weber State head coach Jay Hill / by Brooks Nuanez

“That one hurts really bad,” Hill said. “We had a lot of opportunities and let some things slip away. Maine is a tough team and was so good against the run. We just couldn’t take advantage of our opportunities.

Maine moves on to the Final Four for the first time in program history to face the winner of Saturday’s All-Big Sky quarterfinal in Cheney between No. 3 Eastern Washington and No. 6 UC Davis. All eight of the seeded teams in the FCS playoffs won in the second round.

Maine is the first lower seeded team to advance, ending Weber’s season abruptly at the same point the Wildcats reached last season. WSU has never advanced past the quarterfinals in program history.

A memorable defensive effort spearheaded by an impressive effort by Maine’s defensive front four helped the Black Bears pile up 13 tackles for loss and three sacks. Ster Sheffield finished with three tackles for loss and a sack, Deshaw Stevens and Kayon Whitaker each had two tackles for lsos and a sack and Taji Lowe and Katley Joseph each had a pair of tackles for loss.

Senior defensive back Jeff DeVaughan picked off Constantine twice while Joseph broke up a career high four passes. Manny Patterson and Daron Grayer each had interceptions.

A defensive slugfest played out from the outset. Weber State sophomore kicker Trey Tuttle hit a 37-yard field goal on the first play of the second quarter for the first score. Weber had two different potential game-changing interceptions that both did not actually occur.

The first was thwarted by a neutral zone infraction. Parker Preator nearly intercepted a second down attempt inside Weber State’s 10-yard line and likely would’ve gone more than 90 yards for a touchdown. Two plays after the dropped pick-6, Jaquan Blair scored a nine-yard touchdown for the first and only touchdown of the first half with two minutes until the break.

Chris Ferguson hit Earnest Edwards on a catch-and-run 67-yard touchown on the third play of the second half to stake the visitors to a 14-3 lead.

Tuttle’s 45-yard field goal, his 19th make of the year, cut the Maine lead to 14-6 with 10 minutes to play in the third quarter.

In a game filed with replays and indecisiveness by the officials, Weber benefitted from two of the biggest overturns of the game. Six plays after Edwards’ long touchdown, Constantine threw a wide receiver screen to Devon Cooley, who was stripped before actually securing the ball. Sheffield returned the strip the length of the field for a touchdown but the officials overturned the initial call. WSU capitalized leading to the Tuttle field goal.

On the last possession of the third quarter, Constantine hit Cooley for a 33-yard touchdown that was initially called an interception after a Maine defender wrestled the ball from Cooley. Tuttle missed the extra point, meaning Maine led 14-12 late in the third frame.

Weber State went 3-and-out on its first fourth quarter possessions and the next three ended with Constantine interceptions. With the run game completely absent and the WSU quarterback taking a beating despite playing behind an offensive line that ranked the Big Sky’s best this season, Constantine finished 24-of-52 foor 272 yards and two touchdowns, including a 12-yard scoring strike to Darryl Denby as the clock expired. But the four interceptions proved to be Weber’s demise as the Wildcats finished 10-3 this season.

Maine senior Jeff DeVaughn/ by Maine Athletics

For the first six games this season, Hill, WSU’s highly regarded fifth-year head coach, went back and forthConstantine and Kaden Jenks in an effort to replace Stefan Cantwell, the tough-minded field general who led WSU to a school-record 11 wins last season for most of Weber State’s first six games this season.

Jenks, a redshirt freshman, played the duration of Weber’s season-opening 41-10 loss at Utah. Constantine, a third-year sophomore former junior college transfer, split reps with Jenks during a 24-17 win over Cal Poly and took all the snaps in a 27-10 win over South Dakota.

Constantine threw for 168 yards and two touchdowns in a 45-28 win over Northern Colorado to stamp ta three-game winning streak for the Wildcats. Constantine threw an interception, Jenks threw two more and WSU lost 28-24 at Northern Arizona to lose its second Big Sky Conference game in more than a calendar year despite forcing six turnovers.

Constantine started in the Wildcats’ 14-6 win over Eastern Washington but a defensive effort that held WSU without a touchdown for the first time since 2008 played a bigger factor in a win that ultimately helped WSU share the Big Sky title for the second time in a row.

Constantine threw two interceptions to give Montana State with an early 10 –point lead in Ogden on October 20. But Jenks suffered a gruesome lower leg/foot injury in the second quarter, ending his season. Constantine threw for 170 yards the rest of the way and helped the Wildcats to a 34-24 victory.

The Wildcat offense turned the corner that afternoon. WSU scored at least 26 points in its next six games, including more than 31 four times and 48 points in last week’s 25-point win over Southeast Missouri State.

Weber State senior running back Treshawn Garrett / by Brooks Nuanez

Friday, WSU manufactured exactly nothing on the ground. Maine’s front seven manhandled Weber State’s offensive line, a unit anchored by senior left tackle Iosua Opeta, an almost certain NFL Draft pick who was on the wrong end of a one-sided matchup against the explosive and relentless Whitaker all night. Guard Ty Whitworth and Opeta were both first-team All-Big Sky selections this fall.

Weber State senior running back Treshawn Garrett rushed for 134 yards in the win over SEMO to push his career total to over 2,000 yards in his career. He finished his final game with 16 yards on 10 carries. Josh Davis, the Big Sky Freshman of the Year, finished with 12 yards on 11 carries.

Toia finished the game with a team-high 10 tackles and a third quarter interception that WSU could not turn into any points.

Ramo Jefferson rushed 15 times for 88 yards and a 45-yard touchdown with three minutes left to extend the Maine lead to 23-12. Kenny Doak drilled a 46-yard field goal after the Weber defensive held following Constantine’s final interception.

Photos attributed. All Rights Reserved. 

About Colter Nuanez

Colter Nuanez is the co-founder and senior writer for Skyline Sports. After spending six years in the newspaper industry with stops at the Missoulian, the Ellensburg Daily Record and the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, the former Washington Newspaper Association Sportswriter of the Year and University of Montana Journalism School graduate ('09) has cultivated a deep passion for sports journalism during his 13-year career covering the Big Sky Conference. In August of 2014, Colter and brother Brooks merged their passions of writing and art to found Skyline Sports.

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