Western Illinois football has used the mantra "Finish the Fight" all season long. The Leathernecks fought until the bitter end Saturday but dropped a 21-19 decision to host Weber State in first-round FCS playoff action.
A week after winning a share of the Big Sky Conference title, Weber State quarterback Stefan Cantwell threw for three touchdowns and 186 yards and added 43 yards on the ground to lead the Wildcats to the win in their first home playoff game.
Weber State tight end Andrew Vollert finished with seven catches for 112 yards and a touchdown and receiver Drew Batchelor added four catches for 52 yards and two touchdowns.
WIU could only muster a pair of Sam Crosa field goals in the first half and trailed 14-6 at the intermission.
The Leathernecks scored on a 7-yard run by Clint Ratkovich with 35 seconds left in the third quarter. However, WIU's two-point conversion failed and the Leathernecks trailed 14-12.
Cantwell pushed the Wildcats' lead to 21-12 on their first possession of the fourth quarter when he lobbed a perfect pass to Vollert in the back left corner of the end zone.
The Leathernecks closed within 21-19 when quarterback Sean McGuire found reserve tight end Tyler Slamans on a throwback 18-yard touchdown pass with 4:55 remaining.
Cantwell, however, directed an 11-play drive that covered 62 yards to the Western 11-yard line to run out the clock.
Weber State (10-2) advances to the second round where the Wildcats will face Big Sky rival Southern Utah on the road. The conference co-champions met in October with Southern Utah coming away with a 32-16 win in Ogden. The Big Sky does not use tiebreakers to determine conference champions.
The loss ends Western's season with a 8-4 record. The Leathernecks have made the playoffs in two of the past three seasons.
"Like I told my players at the end of the game, 'We didn't lose, we ran out of time.' Our kids tried hard and I love our football team. I have great respect for them, but we just came up a little bit short today."
--WIU head coach Charlie Fisher
"This is huge. Proud of our guys. We tried to be aggressive . . . and it paid off for us."
--Weber State head coach Jay Hill told ESPN after the game
"He was Mr. Everything for Western Illinois."
--ESPN3 analyst Forrest Conoly on Jaelon Acklin
WIU Players of the game
Receiver Jaelon Acklin caught 10 passes for 116 yards. The senior also rushed four times for 27 yards.
Linebacker Pete Swanson had a career-high 10 tackles (three for loss) and one sack.
Linebacker Brett Taylor had a game-high 12 tackles (six solo).
By the numbers
2 -- Turnovers by Western Illinois; Weber State committed none
3 -- WIU false start penalties on first two drives of game
4 -- WIU conversions in 13 attempts on third down
5 -- Times that WIU receiver Jaelon Acklin surpassed 100 yards receiving this season, tying a school record
6 -- Rushing attempts by WIU back Steve McShane, his lowest total of the season
22 -- More total yards WIU had than Weber State (318-296)
55 -- Percent of passes completed by WIU quarterback Sean McGuire, his lowest since 50 percent in the season opener at Tennessee Tech
Receiver Jaelon Acklin set the WIU single-season record receiving yards (1,369 ). The senior added the WIU season mark for receptions (84) while also tying for most 100-yard games (five).
Linebacker Brett Taylor, the Missouri Valley Football Conference Defensive Player of the Year, finished his career with 469 total tackles in 48 career games (39 consecutive starts). He ranks third all-time in school history in total tackles, third in solo tackles (266) and fourth in assisted tackles (203).