10 Things to Know About AND Weber State in the FCS Playoffs – Grand Forks Herald

GRAND FORKS — AND and Weber State will go head-to-head in the first round of the FCS playoffs Saturday at 3 p.m. in Ogden, Utah. Here are 10 things you need to know about the matchup.

1. There is still some experience left from the last matchup

AND last played in 2019 against Weber State, a 30-27 win for the Wildcats in Ogden when Weber was ranked 3rd in FCS at the time. There are many current Fighting Hawks with experience in this game.

Fighting Hawks running back Luke Skokna, who was out through most of the year this year through injury, had a team-high 39 rushing yards in the game.

AND punter Cade Peterson played in the game and ran for a key 22-yard fake. Wide receiver Garett Maag had eight catches for 55 yards.

AND linebacker Caden White, who is out for the season through injury, had six tackles. Offensive lineman Donny Ventrelli started with the right tackle.

AND corner CJ Siegel had three tackles while defensive end Jaelen Johnson had two tackles and .5 tackles for a loss.

Marcus Vaughn-Jones, Kadon Kauppinen, Ted Mullin, Ben Christian, Brady Stevens, Jalen Morrison and Adam Zavalney also attended.

A field goal by ex-kicker Brady Leach gave AND a 27-20 lead with 7-01 in the fourth quarter. Weber leveled the game with 2:49 minutes remaining and former all-purpose star Brock Boltmann fumbled on the ensuing kick return, resulting in a game-winning Weber kick with 31 seconds remaining.

UND’s last chance to win the buzzer was close. Nate Ketteringham met Noah Wanzek for 25 yards into midfield on the first play. In fourth place, the Hawks threw an Ave Mary into the end zone that was almost completed in a mass of bodies in the end zone.

2. Weber State has a dynamite kick returner

AND has been struggling with kick coverage for the past few weeks and that bodes badly against the Wildcats.

Weber State’s sophomore Abraham Williams is the reigning National Special Team Player of the Week after returning for a touchdown against Northern Arizona last Saturday for the fourth time this year.

Williams returned his fourth 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, which is a new record in a single Big Sky Conference season. He finished the NAU game with five returns for 198 yards for an average of 39.6 yards per return.

The Salt Lake City native leads the nation with 45.4 yards per return and is the only game in the entire NCAA (FBS, FCS, Division II or Division III) with four kickoff returns for touchdowns, and all four were 100 yards .

3. AND expects a right tackleback

AND had a surprising starting lineup change at right tackle last Saturday against North Dakota State.

Former North Dakota State offensive lineman Seth Anderson was unable to play against his former team because of an illness. The Fighting Hawks started Sam Hagen in a proper tackle against the Bison.

Anderson is expected to return to the lineup in the playoffs opener.

“He feels a lot better,” said UND coach Bubba Schweigert. “We had a number of guys who went through a lot last week. We are healthier as a team this week which is great to see.”

4. AND is familiar with Ogden

Not only did AND play Weber State in Ogden in 2015 and 2019, but in 2021 AND stayed in Ogden before playing Logan, Utah, against Utah State.

Logan and Ogden are about 45 miles apart.

Ogden is approximately 38 miles from Salt Lake City. AND will be playing an NCAA charter flight to Salt Lake City and staying in Ogden for the playoff game against Weber State.

AND will be staying at the same hotel it played against Utah State.

“We did our walk-through there when we played Utah State,” Schweigert said. “We’ll stop by Weber’s when we get there on Friday. It’s a really fun place to play.”

5. Schweigert appreciates AND support

UND administrators were disappointed that the FCS playoff committee decided to host this game at Weber State, despite UND’s financial offer.

Committee chair Jermaine Truax told the Herald the committee decided to host the game in Ogden because Weber State had put on such a strong season, although it was a departure from previous precedents of having a host select the best financial offer.

Schweigert was asked earlier this week to comment on the issue.

“Everyone will be aware of it because it’s out there,” Schweigert said. “I’ll tell you this: I appreciate that our administration put together an offer to work really hard to get us a home game and play at the Alerus Center. But the schedule says we’re going to Weber State, and that’s who we’re going to focus on. We really need to prepare and do something that our program didn’t do in the Division I era and that’s get on the road and win a playoff game and we’re really looking forward to that.

6. Weber star running back gets spanked

In Weber State’s narrow win over Northern Arizona last Saturday, the Wildcats were led by Josh Davis, who had nine carries for 80 yards, including a 40-yard run.

On that 40-yard streak, however, Davis seemed to pull himself up a bit to protect an injured ankle that has cost Davis four games this year.

In the win over NAU, Davis advanced to second on the school’s career rushing list. He now has 3,643 career rushing yards.

Davis, a two-time All-American and three-time All-Big Sky first-team pick, has played in 48 career games. In 2018 he won the Jerry Rice Award for National Freshman of the Year.

7. Jay Hill has taken Weber to new heights

This Saturday marks Weber State’s 10th all-time appearance in the FCS playoffs. The first appearance for the Wildcats came in 1987 under head coach Mike Price. Weber also performed in 1991, 2008 and 2009.

The Wildcats are in the playoffs for the sixth time in the last seven years under head coach Jay Hill.

Weber reached the quarterfinals in 2017 and 2018 and the semifinals for the first time in 2019.

Weber State’s all-time record in the playoffs is 7-9 and 5-5 since 2016 under Hill.

“They are really solid and aggressive in defence,” said Schweigert. “They have a tough, hard-hitting running game and special teams. That was the theme. They make plays in all three phases.”

8. AND thought it deserved to be in parentheses

With seven Division I wins and a third-place finish at the Missouri Valley Football Conference, AND felt they deserved a place in the FCS playoffs.

But with no guarantee of being in the group and no wins against a team currently in the top 25, the Hawks had to sweat out the selection show last Sunday.

AND also has some history in this situation. The Hawks were eliminated from the 2015 FCS playoffs after finishing with seven Division I wins and a win over FBS Wyoming.

“I think you’re always a little scared until you see your name on the screen,” Schweigert said. “We felt we had done a lot of good things and put a resume together. Our team and our people deserve to be in the playoffs. If you go out on the road and you beat Youngstown and you beat Northern Iowa, Abilene Christian was playing well when they came here…our losses went to really good teams.”

UND’s four losses included the University of Nebraska, North Dakota State, South Dakota State and a road loss in Southern Illinois that was just one game away from beating Big Ten foes Northwestern.

9. AND knows it will see some copycats

The Fighting Hawks have suffered a heavy loss to a state rival that has seen North Dakota State rush for more than 350 yards against the Fighting Hawks.

Schweigert knows Weber State will try to emulate some of that success.

“I think we have to do our job,” said Schweigert. “If you play defense, you have to play team defense. We have to do that again this week. The Running Fits Are Really Important If other teams succeed, you’ll see later. We need to make corrections and we have made corrections. Getting all 11 on the same page is really important this week.

10. Weber has a top linebacker at FCS

Weber State junior linebacker Winston Reid was named a finalist for the Buck Buchanan Award. He is one of only three players from Big Sky to make the finalist list.

Reid leads the Wildcats and is fifth in Big Sky in tackles at 8.6 per game. He has 95 tackles in 11 games with 57 solo tackles.

He also has 10 tackles for loss, eighth in Big Sky. He is second in the country with four forced fumbles. He also has three sacks, an interception and a fumble recovery in the season.

He was named National Player of the Week following Weber State’s win over Idaho State on November 12 after forcing three fumbles with two strip sacks, one of which resulted in a Wildcat touchdown. Reid is also serving as the team captain this season.

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