Resilient Cowboys move to 4-0 with another exciting comeback victory

University of Wyoming defensive standout Gandy Esaias makes a huge play for Cowboys at UConn Saturday. (University of Wyoming Athletics)

By Tim Harkins, University of Wyoming Athletics

The Wyoming Cowboys once again showed their resilience and comeback ability on Saturday, as they improved to 4-0 on the season and concluded their non-conference schedule undefeated, heading into a bye week.

Unlike last week, when Wyoming built a 31-0 halftime lead at home over Ball State on way to a 45-12 victory, the Cowboys started slow on Saturday at UConn.  But as they’ve done twice before this season, against Montana State and Northern Illinois, the Pokes fought back from a 13-3 deficit at halftime to out-score the Huskies 21 to nine in the second half and record a 24-22 road win.

Wyoming’s comeback was keyed by a critical defensive stand by the Pokes early in the fourth quarter.  Trailing 13-10, the Cowboys saw the Huskies put together a long drive of 74 yards, moving all the way down to the Wyoming five-yard line.  It was critical that UW hold UConn to a field goal and keep the game a one-possession game.  The Wyoming defense would rise to the occasion.  On a third and five from the Wyoming five, Cowboy defensive end Solomon Byrd combined with safety Rome Weber to sack Huskie quarterback Tyler Phommachanh for 12 yards, pushing the ball back to the 17-yard line.  UConn place-kicker Joe McFadden entered the game and made a 35-yard field goal — his third on the day — to extend the Huskies’ lead to 16-10.  But allowing only a field goal meant the Cowboys were still within one touchdown of taking the lead.

Now it was time for the Wyoming offense to step up.  On the Cowboys’ very next offensive possession, the balanced attack that the Pokes have become known for this season would be put on display.  Running back Xazavian Valladay would begin the drive with a 12-yard run on first down and would go on to carry the ball five times for 30 yards on the drive.  UW running back Titus Swen added two runs for 15 yards, and Cowboy quarterback Sean Chambers would complete two passes to wide receiver Ayden Eberhardt for 32 yards, including a great catch by Eberhardt for 23 yards on a third down and seven from the UConn 24.  That catch took the ball down to the UConn one-yard line where Valladay would carry the ball in for the go-ahead TD.  That 77-yard drive gave Wyoming its first lead of the day at 17-16, but there was still 6:31 remaining in the game.

On UConn’s very next possession, Cowboy free safety Esaias Gandy read Huskie quarterback Phommachanh’s eyes on the first play from scrimmage and intercepted the UConn QB’s pass at the Huskie 36-yard line.  Gandy returned the interception seven yards to the UConn 29-yard line, and Wyoming had a chance to extend its lead.

Wyoming’s Swen gained 15 yards up the middle on first down.  Valladay then rushed for three yards, followed by a six-yard run by Swen.  On a third and one at the UConn five-yard line, Valladay picked up three yards and a first down.  Swen finished off the drive with a two-yard TD run.  Place-kicker John Hoyland made his third point after touchdown of the game to give Wyoming a 24-16 lead with only 3:34 remaining on the clock.

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But the Huskies were not done fighting.  Beginning its final possession of the game at its own 36-yard line, UConn drove 64 yards in 15 plays aided by three pass interference penalties called against the Cowboys — the third occurring in the end zone — which placed the ball first and goal at the Wyoming two.  Huskie running back Nate Carter ran the ball into the end zone, and suddenly UConn trailed by only two points (22-24) with four seconds remaining in the game and a two-point conversion attempt coming for UConn.  Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl and his coaching staff called back-to-back timeouts to see what formation the Huskies were going to try and utilize on the critical two-point attempt.  In the end, Wyoming safety Weber came up with his second huge fourth-quarter play by knocking down the UConn pass attempt, and Wyoming preserved the comeback victory.

Quotes From Wyoming Head Coach Craig Bohl

“It was a great team win.  We faced a lot of adversity today,” said head coach Bohl after the game.  “I think we made some things harder than what they should have been, however, I do think UConn has good players and they’ve been getting better.  Their quarterback made a lot of plays.

“I thought we reestablished momentum in the second half when we got the downhill running game going.  That proved to be our ace in the hole.  We made some plays when we needed to.  I thought we were done with this ‘cardiac’ stuff, but we’re not.  All I know is it’s another W and we’re pleased with it.”

Bohl was asked how concerned he was with the number of penalties that were committed by his team in the game.

“It’s hard to win when you get penalized 10 times for 99 yards,” said Bohl.  “We need to clean that up.  We’ve got to become more disciplined.  It’s hard to win on the road and the last time I checked 10 penalties for 99 yards is almost worth a touchdown.”

The head coach was also asked why he thought the Cowboys got off to such a slow start on Saturday.

“I think UConn came out really sharp, and then we did some uncharacteristic things,” said Bohl.  “We pick off a pass but we get called for a personal foul.  We stop them on third down and we get called for another penalty.  We had three stops that were negated by penalty and that had a big impact.  I also think it took us a while to get in a groove with what we wanted to do offensively.  We do count on Treyton (Welch, injured tight end) a lot.  He dressed but I don’t think he would have been functional tonight.  We’ve been starting faster the previous two games, but tonight was not the case.”

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When asked about whether he thinks the upcoming bye week is coming at a good time — at the conclusion of non-conference play and prior to starting Mountain West Conference play in two weeks — Bohl said, “Having an off week after three really competitive games couldn’t come at a better time.  We’re okay, but we have some guys playing with stingers and are banged up.  It will help us get our legs back.  We’re excited about entering conference play.  We’re also extremely excited about being 4-0.”

In terms of what he told his team on the sideline before the final two-point conversion attempt by UConn, Bohl responded, “We were burning timeouts to see what set they were in.  It was a chess game, and I thought Jay (Sawvel, UW Defensive Coordinator) really dialed up a good defense and it was great to see Rome (Weber) make that play.”

Finally, when asked about the play of Cowboy quarterback Chambers, Bohl said, “He made a lot of plays.  I think he’s been a little more on point in previous games for 60 minutes, but he’s an unbelievable competitor and he is definitely the leader of our football team.”

Next Up for the Cowboys

Wyoming will be able to enjoy its one bye week of the season this coming week before opening Mountain West Conference play on Saturday, Oct. 9 on the road at Air Force.  The Wyoming-Air Force game is scheduled to kick off at 5 p.m., Mountain Time and will be televised by CBS Sports Network.

 

Editor’s note: This content has been edited for length. To read the full review and play-by-play of the game, please visit University of Wyoming Athletics.