Wildcats season ends in heartbreaking fashion against Maine

Joe Traub

Just like that, it’s over.

The lights went out on the historic season for the Weber State University football team on Dec. 7, as they were defeated 23–18 by the University of Maine Black Bears in the FCS Quarterfinals. The ’Cats and Bears faced off in front of 7,726 fans at Stewart Stadium.

Wildcats head coach Jay Hill said, “It obviously hurts really bad. We had a lot of opportunities and let some things slip away. You have to give Maine a ton of credit. They’re tough and hard nosed, we knew that coming in.”

Throughout the week, the game was previewed as a battle between two of the best defensive teams in the country. The predictions showed to be true on the field, as the first quarter produced a field-position battle.

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Sophomore quarterback Jake Constantine launches a pass over a quartet of closing defenders (Kelly Watkins / The Signpost)

Weber State received the opening kickoff after Maine deferred to the second half. The ’Cats looked poised to get on the board immediately, as sophomore quarterback Jake Constantine connected on passes of 13 and 32 yards to freshman wide receiver Devon Cooley and senior wide receiver Darryl Denby, respectively.

WSU was at the 22-yard line, but the opening drive stalled when Constantine threw two incompletions and was sacked for a loss of 12 yards to move his team out of field-goal range.

The remainder of the first quarter saw five punts. Wildcats junior punter Doug Lloyd made sure his team had the advantage in field position. He pinned the Black Bears at their 11, 12, and four-yard lines in the opening period.

Meanwhile, Weber State had drives start at the 35-yard-line and then midfield, but came up empty both times. They began to move the ball at the end of the first quarter, reaching the red zone on a 14-yard run by senior running back Treshawn Garrett.

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Landon Stice and the rest of the Weber State defense pursue the Maine running back (Kelly Watkins / The Signpost)

WSU struck first, as sophomore kicker Trey Tuttle connected on a 37-yard field goal to give Weber a 3–0 lead early in the second quarter.

On the next Maine drive, Weber State appeared to regain possession when freshman cornerback Marque Collins intercepted a pass from Maine sophomore quarterback Chris Ferguson at the 35-yard line. However, WSU was called for offsides.

Following four more punts, the Black Bears regained possession in WSU territory with seven minutes left in the half. They drove 47 yards in five minutes, taking a 7–3 lead on a nine-yard touchdown reception by junior wide receiver Jaquan Blair.

Facing a two-minute drill, the ‘Cats gained one first down but were unable to further cash in, leaving Maine with a 7–3 lead at the break.

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Sophomore Jake Constantine attempts a pass (Kelly Watkins / The Signpost)

WSU kicked off to start the second half, and the third play from scrimmage after the break was a game-changer. Ferguson found junior wide receiver Earnest Edwards up the middle running, nearly untouched, into the end zone for a 14–3 lead.

The next Weber State drive turned the tide. Constantine misfired to Cooley on third down, but the Black Bears were called for pass interference to keep the drive alive and move the chains forward.

Two plays later, Constantine’s pass went off the hands of Cooley. Senior linebacker Sterling Sheffield scooped it up and ran it back 60 yards for a score. Despite the celebration on the field, replays showed the pass was incomplete, and the ruling was reversed.

WSU took advantage of a second life, as Constantine found Denby for 31 more yards. The Wildcats eventually scored on a 45-yard field goal from Tuttle to bring them within 14–6.

After the ensuing kickoff, Ferguson’s first pass was intercepted by a backwards-diving senior linebacker LeGrand Toia. The play was upheld after a review.

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Senior linebacker LeGrand Toia picks up an interception against the University of Maine Black Bears (Kelly Watkins / The Signpost)

The Wildcats appeared to be the beneficiary of another break when a Maine defender was called for targeting prior to a nine-yard reception by Cooley.

After five minutes of review, the penalty was overturned and play continued. Weber State was not ready coming out of the stoppage, as they were called for illegal substitution. Redshirt freshman running back Josh Davis was then bottled up on a carry, forcing another punt from Lloyd.

Constantine made a statement two Weber State possessions later, with the third quarter winding to a close. He found Denby for a 41-yard gain down the right sideline and a first down.

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Quarterback Jake Constantine scrambles away from pressure (Kelly Watkins / The Signpost)

After three unproductive plays, Hill and offensive coordinator Dave Schramm opted to go for it on fourth down. Constantine was blitzed and nearly sacked—heaving up a throw that Cooley caught in the back of the end zone, as a Maine defender pursued.

Originally ruled an interception, the referees once again went to their monitors. With fans celebrating what they thought was a touchdown, and Maine celebrating what was called an interception, the Stadium was at a standstill. Everyone was waiting for the referees to finish the review.

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Jake Constantine and Darryl Denby embrace in Denby's final career game (Kelly Watkins / The Signpost)

The play was changed to a touchdown, and the Wildcats were within striking distance, closing the gap to 14–12. However, Tuttle missed the extra point, which kept it a two-point contest.

“Late in the game, that was a critical factor,” Hill said. “We really needed that point.”

The third quarter lasted 59 minutes of elapsed time with four official reviews.

The teams traded punts to start the fourth quarter, and the ‘Cats got the ball back at Maine’s 45-yard line with 9:35 remaining. Constantine was quickly intercepted, a prelude of things to come in the closing moments.

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Linebacker Conner Mortensen looks on as the flaming "W" burns next to the bleachers (Kelly Watkins / The Signpost)

After another Black Bears punt, WSU started a drive with 7:43 to go. Constantine got into a short rhythm once again, connecting with sophomore wide receiver Rashid Shaheed twice. He then found Denby to put the Wildcats in Maine territory.

Facing a third down and eight yards to go, Constantine was sacked for a loss of nine yards.Unable to contain their enthusiasm, Maine was flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty while celebrating. This gave WSU new life just 37 yards away from the promised land.

However, a holding call against the Wildcats was followed by another interception to stall the momentum with just over five minutes on the clock.

Maine milked the clock and scored on a backbreaking 45-yard touchdown run by redshirt freshman running back Ramon Jefferson to make the score 20–12. Another unsportsmanlike conduct call followed, making the extra-point attempt 15 yards longer. The attempt was no good, and Weber State was still within one score with 2:48 left.

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Sophomore Jake Constantine prepares a handoff in the FCS Quarterfinals (Kelly Watkins / The Signpost)

The ensuing WSU drive was a short one. Constantine’s first pass of the drive was batted into the air and intercepted by a Black Bear defender.

Black Bears sophomore kicker Kenny Doak connected on a 46-yard field goal to ice the game with 1:26 remaning.

The Wildcats drove down the field and scored one last touchdown on the season, as Constantine found Denby in the endzone as time expired, bringing the final score to 23–18.

Weber State’s season ends with a record of 10–3. Their nine-game home winning streak was snapped with the defeat.

The team ended with a net of -1 rushing yards, the most for a single player was Garrett who had 16 yards on the ground. This was the final game for a host of WSU standouts, including Denby, Toia, Garrett, offensive lineman Iosua Opeta, fullback Brady May, and the sibling duo in the secondary of Jordan and Parker Preator.

“We’re building,” Hill said. “This is two straight ten-plus win seasons, and we’ve been to the quarterfinals twice. We deserve to be in the top eight teams in the country. We’re right there with them. The future is very bright.”

Black Bears head coach Joe Harasymiak said Stewart Stadium was the most intense environment his team his played at this season.

“We’ve been to two FBS schools and it doesn’t even compare,” Harasymiak said. “The student section was loud, and I can see why it’s a home-field advantage.”

The Black Bears will take on the winner of the Dec. 8 matchup between Big Sky Conference foes Eastern Washington and UC Davis.