10 things to know about UND-Weber State in the FCS playoffs

Nov. 24—GRAND FORKS — UND and Weber State will square off in the first round of the FCS playoffs on Saturday at 3 p.m. in Ogden, Utah. Here are 10 things you need to know about the matchup.

UND last played Weber State in 2019, a 30-27 Wildcats win in Ogden when Weber was ranked No. 3 in the FCS at the time. There's plenty of current Fighting Hawks with experience in that game.

Fighting Hawks running back Luke Skokna, who's missed most of this year with an injury, had a team-high 39 rushing yards in the game.

UND punter Cade Peterson played in the game, running for a key 22-yard fake. Wide receiver Garett Maag had eight catches for 55 yards.

UND linebacker Caden White, who's out for the season with an injury, had six tackles. Offensive lineman Donny Ventrelli started at right tackle.

UND corner C.J. Siegel had three tackles, while defensive end Jaelen Johnson had two tackles and 0.5 tackles for loss.

Marcus Vaughn-Jones, Kadon Kauppinen, Ted Mullin, Ben Christian, Brady Stevens, Jalen Morrison and Adam Zavalney also participated.

A field goal from former kicker Brady Leach gave UND a 27-20 lead with 7:01 left in the fourth quarter. Weber tied the game with 2:49 remaining and former all-purpose star Brock Boltmann fumbled the ensuing kick return, which led to a Weber game-winning kick with 31 seconds left.

UND's final chance to win at the buzzer was close. Nate Ketteringham found Noah Wanzek for 25 yards to midfield on the first play. On fourth down, the Hawks chucked a Hail Mary to the end zone that was nearly completed in a mass of bodies in the end zone.

UND has struggled in recent weeks in kick coverage, and that's a bad sign against the Wildcats.

Weber State sophomore Abraham Williams is the reigning national special teams player of the week after housing a return for a touchdown last Saturday against Northern Arizona for the fourth time this year.

Williams returned his fourth 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, which is a new Big Sky Conference single-season record. He finished the NAU game with five returns for 198 yards for an average of 39.6 yards per return.

The Salt Lake City native leads the nation at 45.4 yards per return is the only play in all of the NCAA (FBS, FCS, Division II or Division III) with four kickoff returns for touchdowns and all four have been 100 yards.

UND had a surprise change in the starting lineup at right tackle last Saturday against North Dakota State.

Former North Dakota State offensive lineman Seth Anderson wasn't able to go against his former team with an illness. The Fighting Hawks started Sam Hagen at right tackle against the Bison.

Anderson is expected to return to the lineup for the playoff opener.

"He's feeling much better," UND coach Bubba Schweigert said. "We had a number of guys who went through some stuff last week. We're healthier as a team this week, which is great to see."

Not only has UND played Weber State in Ogden in 2015 and 2019 but in 2021 UND stayed in Ogden before playing Logan, Utah, to play Utah State.

Logan and Ogden are about 45 miles apart.

Ogden is about 38 miles from Salt Lake City. UND will play an NCAA charter flight in to Salt Lake City for the playoff game against Weber State and stay in Ogden.

UND will stay at the same hotel it did when it played against Utah State.

"We did our walk-through there when we played Utah State," Schweigert said. "We'll walk-through at Weber when we get there Friday. It's a really fun place to play."

UND administrators were disappointed with the FCS playoff committee electing to host this game at Weber State, despite UND's financial bid.

Committee chair Jermaine Truax told the Herald the committee elected to host the game in Ogden because Weber State put together such a strong season, despite this being a departure from past precedent of picking a host with the best financial offer.

Schweigert was asked earlier this week to weigh in on the topic.

"Everyone is going to be aware of it because it's out there," Schweigert said. "I will tell you this: I appreciate our administration put together a bid to really work hard to get us a home game and play in the Alerus Center. But, the schedule says we're going to Weber State and that's what we're going to focus on. We really need to prepare and do something our program hasn't done in the Division I era and that's go on the road and win a playoff game and we're really looking forward to that."

In Weber State's tight win over Northern Arizona last Saturday, the Wildcats were led in rushing by Josh Davis, who had nine carries for 80 yards including a 40-yard run.

On that 40-yard run, though, Davis appeared to pull up a bit to protect an injured ankle that has cost Davis four games this year.

In the win over NAU, Davis moved into second place on the school's career rushing list. He now has 3,643 career rushing yards.

Davis, a two-time All-American and three-time all-Big Sky first-team pick, has played in 48 career games. He won the Jerry Rice Award as the National Freshman of the Year in 2018.

This Saturday will be the 10th all-time appearance for Weber State in the FCS playoffs. The first appearance for the Wildcats came in 1987 under head coach Mike Price. Weber also appeared in 1991, 2008 and 2009.

The Wildcats are in the playoffs for the sixth time in the last seven years under head coach Jay Hill.

Weber reached the quarterfinals in 2017 and 2018 and the semifinals for the first time in 2019.

Weber State's all-time record in the playoffs is 7-9 and is 5-5 since 2016 under Hill.

"They're really sound and aggressive on defense," Schweigert said. "They've got a tough, hard-nosed running game and special teams. That's been the theme. All three phases they make plays."

With seven Division I wins and a third-place finish in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, UND felt it was deserving a spot in the FCS playoffs.

But without a guarantee to be in the bracket, and with no wins against a team currently in the Top 25, the Hawks had to sweat out the selection show last Sunday.

UND has some history in that situation, too. The Hawks were left out of the 2015 FCS playoffs after finishing with seven Division I wins and a victory over FBS Wyoming.

"I think you always are a little anxious until you see your name on the screen," Schweigert said. "We felt like we did a lot of good things and put together a resumé. Our team and staff deserve to be in the playoffs. When you go on the road and beat Youngstown and beat Northern Iowa and Abilene Christian was playing well when they came here ... our losses were to really good teams."

UND's four losses included the University of Nebraska, North Dakota State, South Dakota State and a road loss at Southern Illinois, which was one game removed from beating Big Ten foe Northwestern.

The Fighting Hawks are coming off a difficult loss to an in-state rival, where North Dakota State ran for more than 350 yards against the Fighting Hawks.

Schweigert knows Weber State will try to emulate some of that success.

"I think we have to do our job," Schweigert said. "When you play defense, you have to play team defense. We have to do that this week again. The run fits are really important. The one on one battles, you have to do it with a certain amount of discipline. When teams see other teams be successful, you're going to see it down the road. We have to make corrections, and we have made corrections. To get all 11 on the same page is really important this week."

Weber State junior linebacker Winston Reid has been named a finalist for the Buck Buchanan Award. He is one of only three players from the Big Sky named to the finalist list.

Reid leads the Wildcats and is fifth in the Big Sky in tackles at 8.6 per game. He has 95 tackles through 11 games with 57 solo tackles.

He also has 10 tackles for loss, eighth in the Big Sky. He is tied for second in the country with four forced fumbles. He also has three sacks, one interception and one fumble recovery on the season.

He was named the National Player of the Week after Weber State's win over Idaho State on November 12, after forcing three fumbles, with two strip sacks, one of which led to a Wildcat touchdown. Reid is also serving as a team captain this season.