The Big One: T-Birds, Wildcats ready for ultimate rivalry matchup
By Tom Zulewski
Iron County Today
For college football, a regular-season game between rivals is a normal fact of life, as automatic as a good morning breakfast. In the case of Southern Utah vs. Weber State, the matchup in the second round of the Division I FCS playoffs is more like the perfect three-course meal.
While the T-Birds got to enjoy Thanksgiving week off for the first time in its three playoff appearances, the Wildcats did its part by beating Western Illinois 21-19 at home Nov. 25 to advance.
With the Weber State win, the showdown between the Big Sky co-champions is set for Saturday night at 6 p.m. at Eccles Coliseum. Here are some season highlights from both teams:
-Opening week saw both teams perform on opposite ends of the spectrum Sept. 2. SUU suffered one of its worst defeats in program history in a 77-21 loss at Oregon, who was making its debut under new head coach Willie Taggart.
In Ogden, the Wildcats dismantled Montana Western, 76-0, setting a school record for most points in a game.
-Weber State’s FBS game came the following week at California, and they nearly came away with an upset win. The Golden Bears trailed 20-17 at the half, but rallied behind two Patrick Laird touchdown runs in the fourth quarter for a 33-20 victory.
-After beating Northern Iowa – the first of its four wins over ranked opponents – SUU fell flat in a 54-27 road loss at Sacramento State on Sept. 23 in the Big Sky opener without senior quarterback Patrick Tyler. The T-Birds had no answer after the Hornets scored 23 second-quarter points to break the game open.
Southern Utah hasn’t lost since.
-The rematch everyone anticipated saw SUU leaving no doubt and beating Weber State at Stewart Stadium, 32-16 on Oct. 14. Cedar High grad Chance Bearnson returned an interception 13 yards for a touchdown late in the first half to break a 13-13 tie and send the T-Birds on their way.
SUU’s defense held Weber State to 250 total yards, including 84 rushing – more than 100 below the Wildcats’ season average (189).
Weber State hasn’t lost since and has a 10-2 overall record. SUU comes in at 9-2.
-Both teams have found their groove on offense in their respective winning streaks. Southern Utah is averaging 38.1 points per game in its last seven, and Weber State has averaged 34.2 ppg in its last six.
-The T-Birds are 14-1 at Eccles Coliseum over the last three seasons, but the Wildcats were the ones who hung the lone loss Oct. 22, 2016. By scoring 23 points over the final 7 minutes, 15 seconds, Weber State’s 37-36 win basically derailed SUU’s playoff hopes.
That was then. The teams may be co-champions of the Big Sky in 2017, but the stakes are a lot higher – a trip to the FCS playoff quarterfinals against the James Madison-Stony Brook winner –this time around.
And it will leave a chapter for the ages in the annals of a rivalry that’s only getting better.
FCS Playoffs, second round
Who: Weber State (10-2) vs. No. 8 Southern Utah (9-2).
When: Saturday, 6 p.m., Eccles Coliseum.
Radio/TV: KSUB (590 AM), ESPN3
All-time series: Weber State leads 16-8 over SUU, including a 5-2 record at Eccles Coliseum.
What’s at stake: The winner faces the winner of the game between No. 1 James Madison and Stony Brook in the quarterfinals Dec. 9. James Madison is the defending national champion and has won 23 straight games.