Before this season began, Weber State had good reason to believe it would earn at least a share of the Big Sky title for the fifth straight year.
Now, four games into the season, the Wildcats are in danger of missing the FCS playoffs.
WSU fell to 1-3 after a 17-14 loss to UC Davis (4-0) in both teams’ conference opener on Saturday in Ogden, Utah. The Wildcats don’t need to panic about the playoffs just yet, but the defeat continued to lower the bar for a team that expected to be one of the FCS’ best.
UC Davis was ranked No. 12 in last week’s Stats Perform FCS Top 25, while WSU was No. 14. The betting line before the game was even, so the outcome wasn’t surprising. That doesn’t mean it was easy for the Wildcats to stomach.
WSU took a 14-7 lead in the third quarter and led 14-10 until the final minute of the game. UC Davis quarterback Hunter Rodrigues left the game in the fourth quarter with an injury, and backup Miles Hastings led the Aggies on a 13-play, 56-yard drive that was punctuated by a go-ahead one-yard touchdown run from Trent Tompkins with 27 seconds left.
Before Rodrigues exited, the Week 1 and 2 Big Sky offensive player of the week completed 11 of 26 passes for 99 yards and no touchdowns while rushing for 46 yards and no scores on 10 carries. Hastings went 7 of 9 for 50 yards and completed a nine-yard pass on fourth down to keep the game-winning drive alive.
“We need to capitalize on someone that doesn’t have as much experience coming in, and being able to take advantage of maybe their mistakes or not being as familiar with the offense,” WSU defensive tackle Jared Schiess said, via the (Ogden) Standard-Examiner. “It didn’t change anything we were doing, but we need to capitalize on game-time changes, such as a different quarterback.”
WSU was also playing with a backup QB, Kylan Weisser, who is filling in for injured starter Bronson Barron. Weisser went 19 of 32 for 225 yards and a TD against UC Davis but threw two interceptions. The Wildcats also gave the ball away one other time on a fumble, while the Aggies didn’t commit any turnovers and were penalized just once compared to five flags for WSU.
Despite the mistakes, WSU out-gained UC Davis by nearly 100 total yards and was a play away from beating a strong team. The loss came one week after a 37-24 home defeat to James Madison (ranked No. 3 in FCS), and the Wildcats dropped their season opener 40-17 at Utah (No. 26 at the time in the FBS coaches poll).
The Wildcats were ranked No. 6 to begin the season, 17 spots ahead of the team it just lost to. Injuries to Barron and other players have played big roles in their three losses, but that’s “not something you whine about,” WSU head coach Jay Hill told the Standard-Examiner last week.
WSU won’t play No. 4 Montana this regular season, and it will have a much easier task this Saturday at Cal Poly (1-3) before getting a much-needed bye.
The Wildcats’ conference title — and possibly playoff — hopes will hinge on their two post-bye games: Oct. 15 at home against Montana State and Oct. 23 at Eastern Washington. Both teams are ranked ahead of WSU.
UC Davis, MSU rise in rankings
Weber State fell five spots to No. 19 in this week’s Stats Perform FCS Top 25. The rest of the ranked Big Sky teams either stayed put or moved up.
UC Davis was rewarded for its win over WSU with a jump from No. 12 to No. 8. Montana State, which won 30-17 at Portland State on Saturday, rose from No. 13 to No. 11.
Montana and Eastern Washington remained No. 4 and No. 6, respectively, following their conference-opening blowout wins. EWU (4-0) is set to host UM (3-0) this Saturday night. That game will be televised on ESPN2.
UC Davis and MSU both leapfrogged Villanova, which fell from No. 11 to No. 12 following a 38-17 loss at FBS No. 4 Penn State. Jacksonville State dropped from No. 9 to No. 17 after losing 34-31 to now-No. 23 UT Martin.
UC Davis also ascended past Delaware (No. 8 to No. 9) and North Dakota (remained No. 10). Both teams had byes last week.
Sam Houston, South Dakota State and James Madison stayed at No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3, respectively.
Barriere named player of week again
Another huge game from Eastern Washington quarterback Eric Barriere resulted in another Big Sky offensive player of the week honor.
Northern Colorado linebacker Xander Gagnon was named the defensive player of the week, and Sacramento State kicker Kyle Sentowski earned the special teams accolade.
In a 50-21 win over Southern Utah on Saturday, Barriere completed 29 of 39 passes (74.4%) for 518 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. It’s the redshirt senior’s second straight game with 500-plus passing yards, the first time an FCS QB has done that since Cornell’s Jeff Mathews in 2011, according to the Big Sky. Barriere has won the Big Sky offensive player of the week award three times this season and eight times in his career.
On the season, Barriere has completed 69.6% of his passes for 1,698 yards, 16 TDs and two interceptions. That’s 424.5 yards and four TDs per game. His 10,298 career passing yards are top 10 in Big Sky history.
Gagnon recorded 12 tackles (2.5 for loss) in UNC’s 17-10 overtime win over Northern Arizona.
Sentowski made field goals from 49, 40 and 27 yards in Sac State’s 23-21 victory at Idaho State.
Montana State running back Isaiah Ifanse (offense) and defensive end Daniel Hardy (defense) were also nominated for players of the week awards for their performances in the win at Portland State.
Big Sky signs equipment deal with Wilson
The Big Sky announced a long-term agreement with Wilson Sporting Goods last week, making Wilson the conference’s official football and basketball.
Wilson and the Big Sky signed a basketball deal years ago, according to Jon Kasper, the Big Sky senior associate commissioner for championships and media partnerships. This is the first time in Kasper’s 18 years with the Big Sky that the conference has had an official football, he told 406mtsports.com in an email.
The Big Sky also uses Wilson balls at its soccer championships, and the conference has agreements with Rawlings for softballs and Molten for volleyballs.
Wilson supplies the official balls for the FCS playoffs, the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments and the NCAA soccer tournament, while Rawlings softballs and Molten volleyballs are used for their respective NCAA championships.
“Our coaches want us using the ball that is used in NCAA championships,” Kasper wrote in an email.