OGDEN — Defense.
Above all else — elite special teams included — defense has been the hallmark of the Jay Hill era at Weber State (10-2), and this season has been no different.
Weber State boasts one of the top defenses in the nation, and is ranked No. 20in total defense.
That defense was on full display in the Wildcats' convincing 48-23 victory over Southeast Missouri State last Saturday. After giving up an early and easy touchdown to the Redhawks, the Wildcat defense was stout.
“That is how our defense was last year. It seemed like every game they would give up a score and then just settle in and play lights out,” said Hill. “That happened this (past) week. When our defense is clicking they are really good and can get out of drives fast. They can force a lot of turnovers and (get) a lot of sacks in a short amount of time. That is a tribute to really good players, veteran guys.”
The same can be said for the Maine Black Bears (9-3) of the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA).
Under coach Joe Harasymiak, the Black Bears have made their living on defense.
Maine boasts the No. 9-ranked total defense in the country and dominated Jacksonville State last weekend for a 55-27 victory; the first home playoff win in Black Bears history.
“I have a defensive background and I will always lean on them,” Harasymiak told Brian McLaughlin on the FCS Coaches Corner. “I think playing great defense will always carry you a long way, especially come playoff time.”
“They definitely have one of the best defenses that we have faced this year,” added Hill. “They have one of, if not the top defense in the (CAA). That conference has James Madison, which is always known for its great defenses. (Maine) is just another one of those tough, hard-nosed defenses.”
The Wildcats and Black Bears will duke it out Friday night at Stewart Stadium, with a spot in the FCS semifinals on the line. Neither program has ever advanced past the quarterfinals, making Friday’s contest more than just a playoff game.
It is a chance to make history.
“Not one team in our program’s history has ever been past the quarterfinals. For us, we’d become the best team that has ever put on the Maine uniform,” Harasymiak said.
The same holds true for Weber State, and Hill’s team will rely heavily on its two-headed platoon at running back — senior Treshawn Garrett and Josh Davis — to break through the stout Maine defense.
“We will have to find a way to run the ball when they know we are going to run it,” said Hill. “(Maine is tough) and they try to force you into a lot of third-and-long situations. Treshawn will be key for a lot of reasons. When you have Treshawn and Josh it is easy to keep them fresh and easier to get at a defense. He and Josh give our offense such a one-two punch.”
Quarterback Jake Constantine’s play will be no less important.
“He has settled in the last five weeks or so and he is really becoming that player that I knew we would be,” said Hill. “He is running the offense at a really high efficiency, which is what we need from that position.”
“Weber State has a very good O-line, a tremendous running back and everyone knows about the wideout (Rashid Shaheed),” Harasymiak added. “Certainly the quarterback is playing at a high level. It will be a great challenge.”
On the flip side, Maine lives and dies offensively with the play of quarterback Chris Ferguson. The sophomore has thrown for nearly 2,000 yards (1,877) and 19 touchdowns this season.
“Our offense is playing at an extremely high level right now. We haven’t had Chris Ferguson the entire year, but he runs the show for us,” said Harasymiak.
The Black Bears also rely heavily on running back Ramon Jefferson (884 yards rushing and seven touchdowns) and Earnest Edwards (722 yards receiving and nine scores).
Ultimately, the game will come down to execution in all three phases, something Hill and the Wildcats are confident about.7 comments on this story
“Last week was the first week I thought we played all three phases pretty strong — offense, defense and special teams,” Hill said. “It was definitely one of our best games of the year, and against one of the better opponents we have played. I liked the effort from our guys. I thought they battled until the bitter end and they’ll have to do that again.”
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WSU on the air
No. 3/4 Weber State (10-2)
vs. No. 12/14 Maine (9-3)
Friday, 6 p.m. MST
Stewart Stadium, Ogden
Radio: KLO 1430 AM