These two teams don’t meet often — but when they do, there’s so much on the line.
JMU football faces off against Weber State for the third time Saturday — the first during the regular season and on the road. Although it’s early in the season, this is a No. 3 versus No. 9 FCS matchup and a resume booster for both the Dukes and the Wildcats.
“We’re feeling good, we’re feeling hungry,” redshirt junior linebacker Diamonte Tucker-Dorsey said. “We know there’s a lot at stake; it’s going to be a big game, so [we’re] just ready to play.”
The history is short and simple — JMU is 2-0 over Weber State. The two teams first met in Harrisonburg in the 2017 FCS quarterfinals, and the game was close the whole way through. The Dukes looked to get back to the title game after winning the FCS crown in 2016, and the Wildcats were at the beginning of becoming a dominant program. It came down to the wire, but redshirt senior kicker Ethan Ratke drilled a game-winning field goal as the clock expired in his freshman season.
Ratke is one field goal away from the FCS record heading into Ogden, Utah.
“It’s kind of funny,” Ratke said postgame against Maine. “It’s sort of full circle, almost. When we get there, I’m gonna be thinking about doing whatever kick I got to make and that’s all I am going to try to think about.”
JMU hosted Weber State in the other matchup in the series history in 2019 in the FCS playoffs, this time with the opportunity to head to Frisco, Texas, for a chance at the FCS title. The Dukes led 17-7 with under two minutes to go in the first half but had the ball, and former JMU quarterback Ben DiNucci threw a last-second touchdown pass to former JMU wide receiver Riley Stapleton, who hauled in the 34-yard pass and the Dukes led 24-7 — Weber State never recovered.
The history is recent and, as JMU head coach Curt Cignetti said Monday, the third matchup should be no different. This weekend’s game is Weber State’s home opener, and he described the atmosphere at Stewart Stadium as “juiced up.”
Some of that “juice” will come from the players on the field. Under the lights at 6 p.m. mountain time, Weber State Athletics has promoted the home opener across social media with “Sell Out Stewart Stadium.”
The Wildcats also have players who have seen the Dukes before. On the defensive side, there are more players who traveled to Harrisonburg in 2019 to see JMU and remember what happened in the semifinals. Cignetti noted the defense and described the Wildcats as “really good.”
JMU’s head coach also said Tuesday that Weber State plays all different kinds of defense, from man-on-man to blitz, but the one-on-one matchups are the ones to watch, particularly with redshirt freshman wide receiver Antwane Wells Jr. because of his speed.
Cignetti mentioned that Weber State’s defense is aggressive and “salty”. He described the players for the Wildcats as athletic and a big challenge — they’re No. 9 for a reason.
“It’s a good football team, [a] perennial top 10, top five football team,” Cignetti said. “They’ll be playing their first home game, and I’m sure they’ll be all cranked up.”
Weber State has a tendency to work the special teams as well, noted by Cignetti, and the Wildcats often fake punts and field goals.
“We’ll work it like we work it every week,” Cignetti said. “We’re going to have to do a great job of reading the return, defeating blocks and tacking in space.”
Something to note, Weber State freshman starting freshman quarterback Bronson Barron sustained an injury in the Wildcat’s victory over Dixie State on Sept. 11. Junior quarterback Randall Johnson finished the game and is the likely starter for the Wildcats against the Dukes.
Johnson played for Barron when the latter was hurt in the spring season, so Johnson knows the offense well and is capable of running it.
Offensively Weber State’s line is young compared to the running back room and the receivers — just like JMU.
Looking at JMU, this is the furthest west the team has ever traveled. When asked about how the Dukes will deal with Utah’s altitude, changing from 1,325 to 4,000 of elevation, both Cignetti and the players said they’re not worried and will focus on sticking to routine.
“I think we try and stay the same against everybody,” Tucker-Dorsey said. “[We] prepare the same way, stay level-headed [and] take the same approach.”
It’s a blackout game for Weber State players and fans alike against JMU on Saturday, and both teams look to execute in order to come out on top. There’s potential for the battle to be Johnson vs. Johnson in Utah, and the winner will have a major resume booster down the stretch and into the postseason.
Contact Savannah Reger at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more sports coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.