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Wildcats' season ended sourly, but the season was still great, great, great

Weber State players get ready for their second round playoff game against Montana State on Dec. 3, 2022.

Weber State players get ready for their second round playoff game against Montana State on Dec. 3, 2022. (Robert Casey, Weber State Athletics)


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OGDEN — Weber State's football season didn't end the way anybody in the program wanted or expected.

While the team made it to the FCS playoffs for the sixth time in the last seven seasons, the Wildcats failed to advance past the second round in a disappointing loss to Big Sky rival Montana State.

To go along with the tough ending to the season, head coach Jay Hill left Weber State to become associate head coach and defensive coordinator at BYU. The Wildcats are now in the market for a new head coach, but before that happens, let's take a look at the football team's year in review — a year that could easily be classified as great, great, great.

In Hill's final year with the program, the Wildcats had a successful campaign in which they finished 10-3 and eclipsed 10 wins for the fourth time in the last six seasons. Weber State made it to the FCS playoffs for the sixth time in Hill's nine seasons as head coach after finishing third in the Big Sky Conference.

Although the Wildcats will look different next year, it's important to see the greatness they achieved this year. Here's a look at each of the three aspects of the team — offense, defense and special teams — and how each played a part in the success of the season.

Offense

The 2022 season began with the introduction of new offensive coordinator Mickey Mental, a former Division II head coach that got his first coaching experience at the Division I level. The transition to a different offensive system can often require an adjustment period for a team and its offense, but Weber State actually improved from 2021 to 2022.

In 2021, the Wildcats' offense averaged 31.3 points per game on 365.7 yards per game in a more pass-heavy scheme. Under Mental in his first year, Weber State scored more points (35.2) on more average yards (400.2) per game.

Perhaps most impressive was that the Wildcats put up large point totals against some of the tougher defenses and top teams in the conference. In two games against co-conference champion Montana State, Mental's offense scored 38 points and 25 points, respectively. Against other co-conference champ Sacramento State, the Wildcats managed 30 points.

Weber State's high on the season was 45 points, which they did twice — against Eastern Washington and Idaho State — while the team's low came in a 17-12 victory over tougher-than-expected UC Davis.

The offense was led by third-year quarterback Bronson Barron and a strong stable of running backs, mainly comprised of senior Josh Davis and sophomores Damon Bankston and Dontae McMillan, with junior Kris Jackson occasionally coming on in short-yardage situations.

Running the ball effectively was key to the offense, and each of the backs found success doing so over the season. The workload was distributed almost evenly as McMillan led all rushers with 801 yards, Bankston with 709 yards and Davis with 636 yards — Davis missed a sizeable chunk of the year due to injury.

Having a strong run game opened up the pass for Barron and his receivers, which was led by senior Ty MacPherson and sophomore Jacob Sharp. Barron threw for 2,529 yards, 21 touchdowns and seven interceptions on 59.3% passing.

MacPherson led all receivers with exactly 1,000 receiving yards, and the next closest was Sharp with 546 yards. MacPherson led with 11 receiving touchdowns and was often the go-to receiver for Barron in critical moments.

Though it wasn't ever perfect — and most players and coaches would agree — the offense did what it needed to do to win games. For a team that finished 10-3, Mental and his offensive staff delivered a high-quality product that could go toe-to-toe with anyone in the Big Sky, or even the country.

Defense

The Weber State defense had a strong argument to steal the spotlight from the offense thanks to a fast, disruptive play style that often caused problems for opposing teams.

Weber State was the top defensive team in the Big Sky and only allowed 20.4 points per game and gave up the second lowest number of touchdowns on the season — only UC Davis gave up fewer.

Junior linebacker and team captain Winston Reid led the team with 110 total tackles, which made him a Buck Buchanan award finalist, which is given to the top defensive player in the FCS every year. The next closest player on the team was junior cornerback Eddie Heckard with 71 tackles.

Reid also led the team with five forced fumbles and was tied for second in sacks with four. Freshman linebacker Jack Kelly was ahead of him with six.

For a majority of the year, the front seven were stout and made running the ball difficult for opposing teams. Opponents averaged only 148.1 rushing yards per game on just 3.9 yards per attempt. The Wildcats recorded 21 sacks on the season and often made life difficult for quarterbacks and running backs in the backfield.

With the defensive line and linebackers wreaking havoc up front, it led to opportunities for the Wildcats' secondary to pounce. Weber State finished tied for third in the conference with 15 interceptions and were led by junior cornerback Maxwell Anderson who had five on his own. Senior safety Desmond Williams was a leader in the secondary and finished third on the team with 70 tackles.

Hill was a big proponent of a tough, attacking defense, and his presence will be missed in the defensive room. Co-coordinators Joe Dale and Grant Duff will have a reputation to uphold if they are retained in their positions when a new head coach is announced.

Special teams

Perhaps the unsung heroes of the 2022 season, the special teams unit shined throughout the season for Weber State, with just a few hiccups here and there. Before coming to Ogden, Hill spent nine seasons as the special teams coordinator at the University of Utah, and throughout his tenure with the Wildcats his unit was known to excel.

Maybe the biggest star of all the special teams guys was kickoff returner Abraham Williams, who led not only his team and the Big Sky, but the entire NCAA with four kickoff returns for touchdowns. What's more spectacular is that each one of Williams' touchdowns were 100 yards, a few of which even came from a few yards deep in the end zone, making them unofficially 102- or 103-yards runs.

Although Weber State's punt returns didn't result in points in the same way the kickoff unit did, the Wildcats found success in this area with returners Haze Hadley and Hudson Schenck. Schenck had the only punt return touchdown of the season, a 91-yard return against Montana State in the first matchup between the two teams.

The kickers were solid for this Weber State team, led by field goal kicker Kyle Thompson, who was 19-of-25 on the year with a season-long of 49 yards. Jack Burgess handled punting duties and averaged 40.5 yards per punt, with a long of 68 yards and five kicks over 50 yards.

The biggest slight on the special teams for the year happened in a singular game. In the team's first matchup with Montana State in cold and wet Bozeman, Montana, long snapper Grant Sands had four off-target snaps that went way over Burgess' head and out the end zone.

It resulted in safeties for the Bobcats each time. The next time the two teams met — in the playoffs and again in Bozeman — the Wildcats punted four times and had no issues with the snap.

With Williams, Schenck, Hadley and all the specialists slated to return, special teams should continue to be a strength for this Weber State team in the future.

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