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‘Cats aim to extend homecoming streak

(Bella Torres and Samantha VanOrman)

When the Weber State University football team takes the field on Oct. 13 for their homecoming game, they will be looking to extend a streak. The Wildcats have won three straight homecoming matchups at Stewart Stadium and will put their success on the line against Eastern Washington University, ranked No. 5 in the FCS.

WSU head coach Jay Hill said he hopes the fans provide a significant amount of support.

“I would love nothing more than Eastern to come running out of the tunnel and see a completely packed house,” Hill said. “I would love Stewart Stadium to look like the Montana schools when the fans are going crazy.”

Weber State and Eastern Washington met in the Pacific Northwest last year, and the ‘Cats emerged victorious 28–20 amid snow flurries. The Eagles have not visited Ogden since 2012, when the Wildcats were handed a 32–26 defeat.

Hill said he expects a close contest between the two Big Sky Conference front-runners.

“I know they look at this like we are definitely a contender,” Hill said. “We look at them as a team that we are going to have to play well against.”

The Eagles soared offensively this season, averaging an eye-popping 43.4 points per game en route to a 4–1 start. In the last two games, EWU outscored their opponents by a combined score of 104–34, including a 70–17 drubbing against the University of Cal Poly.

The Wildcats are no slouch, as they started the season 3–1. Following a season-opening defeat at the University of Utah, they clawed their way to a No. 6 ranking in the FCS Stats poll. WSU is coming off three consecutive victories, one of which was a 27–10 slamming of nationally ranked South Dakota.

Position-by-position, the Wildcats and Eagles are relatively evenly matched. All statistics are through Oct. 5.

Starting at quarterback for Eastern Washington is redshirt senior Gage Gubrud, who boasts a near-perfect 156.78 quarterback rating. He has connected on 99 of his 160 pass attempts for a colossal 1,416 yards and thrown 13 touchdowns to eight different targets, compared to five interceptions.

Gubrud also made the news after his team lost to Weber State last year. According to the Easterner, EWU’s student-run newspaper, he was arrested on obstruction charges roughly seven hours after the game. Gubrud was suspended the following week, and the charges were dismissed a month later.

Weber’s starter is sophomore quarterback Jake Constantine, who continues to progress. He holds a 124.81 quarterback rating, completing 39 of 65 passes for 392 yards. Constantine has thrown four touchdowns and two interceptions after assuming the lead role midway through the second game of the season.

Constantine is in his first season with the Wildcats, after he originally began his career at Boise State University. He said he is focused on improving his play.

“I’ve done decent at times,” Constantine said. “But I don’t think I have played even close to my full potential yet. I just need to keep working.”

A key component of the Eagles high-flying attack is their core of wide receivers. In total, they have racked up 1,429 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns.

The notable standouts include redshirt seniors Nsimba Webster and Zach Eagle. Webster has 25 catches for 505 yards and four touchdowns, while Eagle has 14 receptions for 186 yards and a touchdown. Redshirt freshman Andrew Boston has also been a contributor with 13 catches for 165 yards and two touchdowns.

The Wildcats passing assault has been well spread out so far in 2018. The favorites have been sophomore Rashid Shaheed, freshman Devon Cooley, and senior Darryl Denby.

Shaheed hauled in 136 yards on nine targets for two touchdowns, Cooley seven catches for 80 yards, and Denby five receptions for 66 yards and two touchdowns. Shaheed has also put his talents to work in the return game, where he racked up 224 yards on six return attempts, including an electrifying 100-yard touchdown against Northern Colorado University on Sept. 22.

WSU senior fullback Brady May has been a quiet, but steady contributor. He hauled in eight catches for 52 yards and provided crucial blocking on the offensive line.

May said he feels a budding rivalry between his team and Eastern Washington.

“The games (between WSU and EWU) have ultimately had a lot to do with the Big Sky and the playoffs,” May said. “I think both teams know that coming into this one.”

Eastern’s senior running back Sam McPherson has been a go-to weapon, as he has accumulated 569 yards and five touchdowns on 70 attempts. The team proved to be just as well-balanced in their run game as their passing game, spreading around eight touchdowns between four different backs excluding McPherson.

Weber State freshman sensation Josh Davis has been the bell cow for the ‘Cats, slicing and dicing opponents for 499 yards and four touchdowns on 80 attempts, in three games he has played this season. Additionally, Davis has put forth 125 yards on seven punt returns.

Defensively, senior linebacker Ketner Kupp, redshirt freshman defensive lineman Mitchell Johnson, and redshirt senior linebacker Kurt Calhoun topped the stat chart for the Eagles. The three have a combined 83 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, four quarterback hits, 5.5 sacks and two forced fumbles on the season.

Ketner Kupp is the younger brother of Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp, who has hauled in four touchdown receptions to help his team to a 4–0 start. The elder Kupp also played his college career at EWU.

The Wildcat defense has been particularly punishing this year. Senior linebackers LeGrand Toia and Landon Stice have led the effort, as well as junior defensive end Adam Rodriguez. The group has 86 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, six quarterback hits, 6.5 sacks, two fumble recoveries and two interceptions split among them.

May said he believes his team will build off energy from the crowd in the homecoming game.

“We love playing at home and protecting Stewart Stadium,” May said. “It’s a big deal for us to play here in Ogden.”

Additionally, May said the support of the community means everything to his team.

“I don’t know if we can thank the community and school enough for coming out and supporting us,” May said. “It really is a big deal for us and goes a long way in helping us with the home-field advantage.”

The Wildcats have won 16 of their last 19 home games, dating back to the end of the 2014 season.

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