Cowboy defense scores two Pick Sixs on way to 45-12 victory
The Wyoming Cowboys improved their record to 3-0 on Saturday, with a convincing 45-12 home win over Ball State. Wyoming’s offense accumulated 378 yards of total offense, scored four touchdowns and a field goal. The Cowboy defense was outstanding, forcing three turnovers and returning two interceptions for TDs — those two “Pick Six” were scored by nickel back Keyon Blankenbaker and linebacker Chad Muma.
Offensively, quarterback Sean Chambers completed 61 percent of his passes on the day (14 of 23) for 201 yards and one touchdown pass to tight end Treyton Welch. Wyoming utilized eight different receivers and four different running backs in the game, concluding the day with 177 rushing yards. Running backs Xazavian Valladay and Dawaiian McNeely each scored a rushing touchdown — the first of McNeely’s career. Chambers added a TD run of his own. Valladay had 61 rushing yards and 43 receiving for 104 all-purpose yards on the day. Wide receiver Isaiah Neyor caught four passes for 84 yards to lead the Pokes. The Cowboys committed no turnovers, compared to three by Ball State.
The Cowboy defense made a real statement with one of the best performances in recent history. UW’s defenders not only scored two touchdowns of their own, but forced another huge turnover right before halftime. With the ball at the Wyoming 47-yard line, defensive lineman Victor Jones sacked Ball State quarterback Drew Plitt and knocked the ball loose. The ball bounded toward the Ball State end of the field and Cowboy defensive end Jaylen Pate recovered the ball all the way down at the Cardinals 31-yard line with only 42 seconds remaining in the half. That led to a Chambers one-yard rushing touchdown five plays later to give UW a 31-0 halftime lead.
“We talked to our team at halftime, and we asked them the score, and it was not a sarcastic question,” said head coach Craig Bohl. “It was a question, and they all said 0-0, so they answered the right way. We needed to continue to play with a hard edge, and we’ll continue to do that. Our focus is to be 1-0 (each week) and we are 1-0 (this week).
“I would say so (this being a complete performance). There were elements last week. I thought we looked really good, but there were times in this game we looked explosive on offense. We tackled well on defense. We were really solid in the kicking game. We are well pleased with our progress.
“I think more than anything else, you’ve got guys with high character and have set a high bar for themselves (on defense). Inside, internally, they were disappointed on how they finished the game last week. That was a point of emphasis, and I thought our guys responded well. Ball State is a good offense, so that was no small feat. I’m real happy with the progress we made.”
The two “Pick Sixes” by the Cowboys was the first time a Wyoming defense had accomplished that since Sept. 23, 2016, when safety Marcus Epps and linebacker Logan Wilson each had interception returns for TDs against Eastern Michigan.
For Muma, it was the second consecutive week that he intercepted a pass and returned it for a touchdown. He had a 23-yard “Pick Six” at Northern Illinois a week ago. Blankenbaker’s interception was the first of his Wyoming career.
Wyoming’s defense also recorded 6.0 sacks on the day for 33 yards, led by defensive tackle Ravontae Holt with 2.5 sacks for 13 yards.
“I was very pleased (on our ability to pressure the quarterback),” said Bohl. “We had spent some time with the Penn State coaches, talking to them. Penn State said they (Ball State) were a lot bigger and stronger than they thought and they are well-coached. We had good pressure, and even if their quarterback didn’t take a sack, he was moving around and having to do things under duress.”
Muma led Wyoming in tackles with 12, including 10 solo tackles to go along with 1.0 tackle for loss. His running mate at linebacker, Easton Gibbs, recorded eight tackles and 1.0 sack for nine yards. Free safety Esaias Gandy added six tackles as did defensive end Solomon Byrd. Byrd also had 1.0 sack for two yards. Holt and cornerback C.J. Coldon were credited with five tackles apiece.
“Chad has really improved from last year to this year,” added Bohl. “He’s gotten bigger, he’s making plays in space, he’s an excellent tackler. His productivity, he’s off the charts. He’s having one heck of a year.”
The first-half shutout by the Cowboys was their first shutout in a half since Oct. 30, 2020, when UW shutout Hawai’i in the second half. Wyoming’s 31 first-half points marked the first time that UW scored 30 points in a half since scoring 33 in the first half vs. UNLV on Sept. 28, 2019.
The Wyoming defense held Ball State to only 260 yards of total offense, 118 rushing yards and 142 passing, while holding the Cardinals’ outstanding quarterback Plitt to only 60 yards passing and sacking him five times.
Wyoming took a 3-0 lead on a 24-yard field goal by John Hoyland on the Cowboys’ second possession of the game. The scoring drive covered 53 yards on seven plays and took 2:45 off the clock. The drive was highlighted by a 37-yard pass completion from Chambers to Neyor. For Hoyland, he is now 3 of 3 in field goals on the year and 16 of 17 for his career.
On Ball State’s next possession, BSU quarterback Plitt was sacked on back-to-back plays by Cole Godbout and Ravontae Holt. But Plitt came back to complete a 19-yard pass for a first down. On first down at the BSU 40, Plitt through an out route that was intercepted for a “Pick Six” by nickel back Blankenbaker. Blankenbaker’s interception return for a TD went for 50 yards and gave the Pokes a 10-0 lead.
On the first play of the second quarter, the Cowboys took a 17-0 lead, capping off an eight-play, 80-yard drive that resulted in a one-yard touchdown pass from Chambers to tight end Treyton Welch. The drive featured a 33-yard run by Valladay and a nine-yard run by running back McNeely.
Ball State drove down to the Wyoming 32-yard line midway through the second quarter. The Cardinals decided to go for a fourth and four at the 32, but on a long throw to the sideline Cowboy cornerback Azizi Hearn broke in front of the intended receiver and broke up the pass, giving the ball back to Wyoming.
It would take the Cowboys only six plays over two minutes and 48 seconds to score its next touchdown. That drive was highlighted by a pass from Chambers to Valladay across the middle for 35 yards followed by a screen pass to running back Trey Smith for 15 yards two plays laters. On a first and 10 at the Ball State 16-yard line, McNeely broke through the left side of the offensive line and sprinted to the corner of the end zone for his first career touchdown. Wyoming had built its lead to 24-0.
Wyoming’s defense forced the second turnover of the game on the Cardinals’ next possession. BSU quarterback Plitt dropped back on third and six at the Wyoming 47-yard line. That is when Jones sacked Plitt and knocked the ball loose. Defensive end Pate recovered the fumble at the BSU 31. On the first play after the turnover, Chambers hit Neyor on a 20-yard completion on the sideline. Chambers then kept the ball on a rush up the middle for seven yards. Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl called a timeout with 30 seconds remaining. After an incompletion, Valladay carried for three yards to the one-yard line for a first down, with 22 seconds remaining in the half. Wyoming took a second timeout. Chambers then rolled right on the final play of the drive and ran into the endzone, giving the Pokes a 31-0 lead.
With 17 seconds remaining in the half, Wyoming attempted a squib kick down the middle of the field on the kickoff. The ball was picked up by wide receiver Justin Hall for the Cardinals, and he proceeded to return the kick 72 yards down to the Wyoming 26 with only six seconds remaining in the half. After a delay of game on first down, Plitt completed a nine yard pass to the UW 23. BSU place-kicker Jake Chanove came in to attempt a 40-yard field goal, but the kick went wide right and the half ended with Wyoming leading 31-0.
The only scoring drive of the third quarter was engineered by Ball State. The Cardinals began their final possession of the third quarter at their own 13-yard line. They drove 87 yards in 15 plays and running back Will Jones scored on a one-yard TD run. The Cowboys looked like they may have stopped the drive at the Wyoming 26 when Ball State back-up quarterback John Paddock threw an incomplete pass on third and five, but Wyoming’s Blankenbaker was called for interference. That penalty moved the ball to the Wyoming 11-yard line. Three plays later running back Jones scored the Cardinals’ first touchdowns. Ball State missed the extra point and the score was 31-6 in favor of Wyoming.
Wyoming responded with a scoring drive of its own as the game entered the fourth quarter. Chambers completed two big pass plays on the drive — one of 17 yards to tight end Colin O’Brien and a 15-yarder to Neyor. Valladay would score his first TD of the day on a one-yard run. The drive covered 75 yards in 11 plays and took 5:55 off the clock. With 11:04 to go in the fourth quarter, Wyoming held a 38-6 advantage.
Ball State put together an eight-play, 75-yard scoring drive concluding with a 19-yard TD run by running back Carson Steel. BSU’s two-point conversion failed, and the score was 38-12 in favor of the Cowboys.
The final points of the game were scored by Muma with his interception and 45-yard return for a touchdown, capping off a great day for the Cowboys and making the final score 45-12 in a matchup of the last two Arizona Bowl Champions.
Wyoming will travel to Connecticut next Saturday, Sept. 25 to face UConn at 1:30 p.m., Mountain Time. That game will be broadcast on radio over the 26 affiliate stations of the Cowboy Sports Network and will be televised on CBS Sports Network.