Top 25 matchup at Stewart Stadium

Ian Syme

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“I want this place rockin’; that is what we expect, that is what we want,” head coach Jay Hill said. “I want the whole city of Ogden to rave about what we have at Weber State.”

The third-ranked Wildcats enter this game after a convincing win on the road last Saturday against sixth-ranked Sacramento State. The Wildcats defeated the Hornets 36–17 behind sophomore running back Josh Davis’s 177 rushing yards and redshirt freshman Kris Jackson’s two rushing touchdowns. Freshman cornerback Ja’Kobe Harris had two interceptions to anchor the Wildcat defense.

“We’re pretty happy with where we’re at right now, but never content,” Hill said. “We know that we had better stay humble, and we better stay hungry because we’ve got good opponents the last couple weeks and we’re going to have to play well.”

Weber State’s offense continues to play a prominent role in the Wildcats’ season. Davis and Jackson lead the team in rushing yards and touchdowns. Junior quarterback Jake Constantine has 450 passing yards and three touchdowns in the Wildcats’ last two games.

Sophomore wide receiver Devon Cooley has become a target for Wildcat quarterbacks this season, averaging over 50 receiving yards a game and bringing in two touchdowns so far.

“We’re just prepared for North Dakota,” senior offensive lineman Xavier Stilson said. “We’re prepared for them offensively, defensively and on special teams. We’re just ready to go and take it to them and have a fight.”

Weber State’s defense remains the key part of their success on the field. The defense ranks first in the Big Sky in both points and yards allowed. At the national level, the Wildcats enter this week tied for fifth in recovered fumbles and tied for second with an average turnover margin of 1.56.

The Wildcat defense has many notable individuals heading their efforts. Redshirt sophomore defensive end George Tarlas leads the team with six sacks while junior lineman Jared Schiess leads the way with eight tackles for loss and junior safety Preston Smith ranks first on the team with 53 total tackles. Three different players lead the Wildcats with two interceptions each.

North Dakota comes to Ogden after a bye week. The Fighting Hawks defeated ninth-ranked Montana State 16–12 in their last game played on October 26. Redshirt senior quarterback Nate Ketteringham threw for 220 passing yards while senior wide receiver Travis Toivonen had 84 receiving yards and one touchdown.

Freshman linebacker Mitchell Maxfield commented that North Dakota’s offense plays in a physical way similar to the Wildcats.

“We know their receivers like to be aggressive and really push down the field,” Maxfield said. “We’re working on that in drills and matching up personnel to take it to those guys.”

Through eight games in 2019, the Fighting Hawks are averaging just over 25 points per game. The passing game is the biggest part of the Fighting Hawks’ play, averaging almost 250 passing yards per game with their running backs averaging 116 rushing yards per game.

As the Fighting Hawks’ starting quarterback, Ketteringham has thrown for 1,456 yards and nine touchdowns in six games this season. Senior running back James Johannesson leads all North Dakota rushers with 409 rushing yards and six touchdowns. In the air, senior wide receiver Noah Wanzek leads in yardage with 570 while Toivonen tops the Hawks’ receivers with four touchdowns.

Defensively, the Fighting Hawks have proven to be a challenge, totaling seven interceptions and 18 sacks in 2019. Three different players have tallied two interceptions, while junior linebacker Jaxson Turner leads the team with 4.5 sacks. Senior linebacker Donnell Rodgers leads North Dakota in both tackles for loss with 6.5 and yards for loss with 18.

“(North Dakota head coach) Bubba Schweigert does a great job,” Hill said. “Their offense, defense and special teams are going to fight you to the bitter end. They do things right and they play the game well.”

Saturday’s game will be the fifth meeting between the Wildcats and the Fighting Hawks. The Wildcats lead the all-time series with a record of 3-1, with the most recent matchup resulting in a 35–30 Wildcat win in Grand Forks last year.

One notable area to watch during Saturday’s game will be how each team plays in the red zone. So far this season, the Fighting Hawks rank second in red zone offense with 23 out of 24 drives resulting in points while the Wildcats are tied for third with 29 out of 31 drives ending in a score.

Stilson anticipates a great battle on the field and good support in the stands.

“We love it when we have fans,” Stilson said. “When we pack the stands, it’s huge, especially for defensive stops. It’s just great seeing everybody out.”

With weather expected to sunny and 60s, the Fighting Hawks and the Wildcats will kickoff at 2 p.m. on a beautiful fall day.