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James Madison, Weber State Set to Battle in Quarterfinals of FCS Playoffs

The James Madison Dukes will meet the Weber State Wildcats in the quarterfinals of the FCS Playoffs. JMU has been on a mission all season long, and have taken out every team that has stood in their path of winning their second straight FCS football championship. They’ll face  a tough Weber State team on Friday night. The Wildcats (11-2) have only lost to the Cal Golden Bears and Big Sky Champions Southern Utah Thunderbirds this season. Weber State avenged the loss to the Thunderbirds last week in the second round of the FCS Playoffs. This is an East  vs West matchup and these teams are similar in several ways.


Stefan Cantwell is a dual-threat quarterback that is dangerous every time he takes the field. He’s an efficient passer along with being a very good rusher. The senior accounts for 252.9 yards per game (29th FCS) between his arm and his feet. Cantwell had 492 yards of total offense in the loss at Cal. His above-average accuracy has led him to throw only 6 interceptions this season. His athleticism is a key factor as to why the Wildcats have had a successful 2017 campaign in FCS football.

Weber State Football

Cantwell unloads on a deep pass.

James Madison’s Bryan Schor is as solid as they come. Schor adds balance to the run-first offensive philosophy for the Dukes. As a senior, Schor has a lot of experience under center with 30 career starts under his belt. When the running game struggles, Schor puts the offense on his shoulders and can grind out a win. He makes poor decisions at times with 11 interceptions, but he’s a very accurate passer. His 69.2 percent completion percentage ranks 2nd in the FCS and he can lay the ball right into the hands of his receivers. He doesn’t have a lot of speed, but he has enough to keep drives going and find the end zone on while scrambling.

JMU Football

Schor has some running ability. Especially inside the red zone

Advantage – Cantwell (Weber State): Cantwell is a very athletic quarterback and creates big plays. It’s close, but I like Cantwell over Schor.

Running Backs:

The Big Sky Conference is more of a pass happy league so their running games often get overlooked. Weber State can get things done on the ground with three backs averaging over 5 yards per carry. Treshawn Garrett leads the Wildcats with 698 rushing yards. Sophomore Kevin Smith is a good complement to Garret. He brings a good combination of power and speed to the table. Watch out for red-shirt freshman David Jones. He’s undersized, but has incredible break away speed. All three running backs have carries for over 50 yards this season. Garrett has a 98-yard touchdown run to his credit. Add in Cantwell’s running ability and the Wildcats are sound in the running game.

Weber State Football

Garrett down the sideline on his 98-yard touchdown run.

The Dukes are one of the best rushing teams in FCS football, averaging 197.8 yards per game. They struggled on the ground against Stony Brook, but they are not to be taken lightly. Trai Sharp averages 4.9 yards per carry and leads the team with 692 yards. Marcus Marshall will pound away at defenses and averages 4.7 yards per carry. These guys don’t break for big gains often, but they keep the drives going and will suck the life out of defenses.

JMU Football

Trai Sharp

Advantage – James Madison: The running backs struggled last week, but expect them to turn things around against the Wildcats.


Cantwell’s favorite target this season has been tight end Andrew Vollert. At 6’5″, the senior uses his size to create mismatches. Vollert has good hands and will catch the attention of some NFL teams. Drew Batchelor is shifty and does an excellent job gaining separation from defenders. The senior has a team-leading 8 touchdown receptions this season. Rashid Shaheed is the burner for Weber State. The red-shirt freshman has trouble running clean routes at times, but his speed gets him out of trouble too. With a 21.7 yards per reception average, Shaheed is the deep threat.

Weber State Football

Vollert uses his size to be one of the best receiving tight ends in college football.

The Dukes will spread passes around between four main receivers. Terrence Alls and David Eldridge are the go-to-guys for this receiving unit. In just eight games, Alls leads the Dukes with 43 receptions and 535 yards. Eldridge has made several drive-saving catches this season and runs the better routes on the team. Ishmael Hyman will challenge defenders deep and thrives against man coverage. John Miller also will play a role with 379 receiving yards. Keep an eye on Clayton Cheatham. The tight end is used mostly in jumbo packages and has been spectacular in the red zone. The 6’3″ freshman has 4 touchdowns on 7 receptions.

JMU Football

In just eight games, Alls has been dynamic for the Dukes.

Advantage – Even: If you go by numbers alone, it’s all Weber State. However, the Dukes have a really good quartet of pass catchers. This is one position where I may be partial to JMU because I’ve seen more of them this season. The Wildcat receivers are explosive though.


This is where I feel that Weber State doesn’t get enough credit. The Wildcats rank 10th in the FCS, giving up just 16.5 points per game. The do well at stopping the run, but the play in the passing dominant  Big Sky. The Wildcats can cause a lot of havoc for quarterbacks with their heavy pass rush. As a team, they have 37 qb sacks (8th FCS) this season and they create a lot of turnovers. Cardon Malan, McKay Murphy, and Jonah Williams are give the Wildcats a solid defensive front. Malan leads the team with 7 sacks, while Williams and Murphy combine for 8.5 sacks. Linebacker Legrand Toia is another solid pass rusher with 5 sacks. Weber State gives up 212.4 (63rd FCS) passing yards per game. Xequille Harry and Jordan Preator lead the secondary with four interceptions each.

Not many teams in FCS football can match the dominance of the James Madison defense this season. The Dukes are so good that I can’t list all of their achievements in one article. The give up a FCS leading 8.8 points per game and are 7th in passing defense with 150.8 yards per game. They also lead the nation with 24 interceptions and are tied for third with 43 sacks this season. Stony Brook found out the hard way about the JMU secondary as they surrendered five picks to the Dukes. With Jordan Brown (7 int),  Rashad Robinson (6 int), Jimmy Moreland (5 int), and Raven Greene (4 int), this could be one of the greatest secondaries of all time in  FCS football. The Dukes can give up a ton of passing yards at times, but it’s impossible to get over on these guys for an entire game.

JMU Football

Robinson getting vertical for the pick.

Andrew Ankrah holds down the fort on the d-line. The senior leads the team with 7.5 sacks and 13 tackles for a loss. Linebacker Kyre Hawkins is second with 7 sacks and 12 tackles for a loss. The depth that the Dukes have on defense is amazing. A big reason why JMU ranks 6th in the FCS, giving up just 84.3 rushing yards per game. They have the depth to stay fresh and won’t break down later in the games like most defenses will. In their last five games, the Dukes are giving up only 5.2 points per game.

Advantage – James Madison: The defense is just flat-out scary. Depth, ability, and execution all play a part and the Dukes have all of those characteristics.

This is one that could come down to the final possession, but I think James Madison pulls it out. I’m a “defense wins championships” kind of guy and the Dukes have a ton of defense. I can’t stress this enough though. Weber State is a team that can pull off an upset. The Wildcats are dangerous and are a threat to hit a big gain on every snap. If both teams perform at their highest level, you could witness an instant classic. Game time is set for Friday, Dec. 8th at 7pm at Bridgeforth Stadium in Harrisonburg, VA. The game will be televised on ESPN2. So all of you Weber State fans out west better hit that time clock right at quitting time and grab a pizza on the way home just in time for kickoff.