The University of Wyoming Cowboys concluded their 2021 season with their biggest offensive performance of the season, scoring 52 points in a 52-38 win over Kent State in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl on Tuesday in Boise, Idaho.
The 52 points were the most Wyoming had ever scored in a bowl game and were the most UW had scored this season.
It was Wyoming’s third consecutive bowl victory and second Potato Bowl Championship, having also won the 2019 NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl and the 2017 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
“First of all, what a great experience for our players,” said Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl. “The City of Boise and the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl do such a great job. Our players have really enjoyed it, and we were excited with the invitation.
“We are really pleased with the win. Kent State is a great offense. It was important for us to make big plays and this group did that. We played well and accepted the challenge. I’m pleased with the effort of the players and coaches coming up with another win. The future is bright for Cowboy football. It was heartwarming to see our seniors go out there and compete.”
Wyoming’s offensive attack was led by quarterback Levi Williams, who scored four rushing touchdowns and threw for a fifth TD while rushing for an even 200 yards and completing 9 of 11 passes for 127 yards and no interceptions. Williams became the first quarterback in college bowl history to rush for 200 yards, score four rushing touchdowns and pass for one TD in a bowl game. He also tied the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl record of four rushing TDs and set a Potato Bowl record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback. Williams was named the MVP of the game.
The 200 rushing yards was a single-game career-high for Williams. It was the second 100-yard rushing game of Williams career and his first 200-yard rushing game. He had 116 rushing yards in a home win over Colorado State earlier this season. Williams also rushed for the most touchdowns in a single game by a Cowboy since Alvester Alexander had five against Colorado State on Nov. 20, 2010.
Running back Xazavaian Valladay became only the fourth Wyoming Cowboy in the 125-year history of Cowboy Football to record two 1,000-yard rushing seasons. His 87 rushing yards against Kent State gave him 1,071 rushing yards this season.
He rushed for 1,265 yards in the 2019 season. Only Brian Hill (1,860 yards in 2016 and 1,631 in 2015), Ryan Christopherson ( 1,455 in 1994 and 1,042 in 1993) and Dabby Dawson (1,119 in 1988 and 1,005 in 1989) had rushed for over 1,000 yards in multiple seasons prior to Valladay. Valladay also added a three-yard TD run in the win over Kent State.
The Pokes’ other two touchdowns were scored by wide receiver Isaiah Neyor, who caught a 42-yard TD pass from Williams, and by running back Trey Smith, who scored on a 49-yard touchdown run – the first of the 2021 season for Smith. Neyor led the Cowboys in receiving in the game, catching five passes for 87 yards. Wyoming’s remaining points were scored by place-kicker John Hoyland, who kicked a career long field goal of 44 yards.
Cowboy linebacker Chad Muma recorded his 11th double-figure tackle game of the 2021 season, with 13 against the Golden Flashes, including a half sack. That improved his season total to 142 tackles, which ranks as the fourth best single-season total in Wyoming school history. Only linebacker Galand Thaxton (158 tackles in 1986 and 143 in 1987) and free safety John Salley (143 in 1982) have ever had more tackles in a single season in Wyoming history.
Other Cowboy defenders who had excellent days in the win over Kent State were linebacker Easton Gibbs, with 11 tackles; nose tackle Cole Godbout, who was credited with a career best 10 tackles and 1.0 sack; free safety Isaac White had seven tackles and 1.0 sack and defensive end Garrett Crall recorded 1.5 sacks.
Wyoming’s defense took the field first for the Cowboys after Wyoming won the opening toss and deferred to the second half. The Pokes gave up 37 yards to Kent State on the opening drive, but on a fourth and six from the Wyoming 33-yard line UW cornerback C.J. Coldon broke up a pass attempt to give the Cowboys the ball on downs.
The Cowboys were very efficient on their first offensive possession. Vallady rushed three times for 15 yards, and Titus Swen had two carries for 24 yards. Quarterback Williams completed two passes – one for nine yards to Joshua Cobbs and one for eight yards to tight end Parker Christensen. Williams concluded the drive with a five-yard touchdown run to give Wyoming a 7-0 lead. The scoring drive went for 67 yards in nine plays.
Kent State responded immediately on its first play of the ensuing possession when quarterback Dustin Crum connected with wide receiver Dante Cephas for 80 yards to tie the game at 7-7 with 6:52 remaining in the first quarter.
Wyoming was held to a three-and-out series on its second possession, and after a UW punt Kent State took over at its own 29-yard line. The Golden Flashes proceeded to move the ball 71 yards in 11 plays capped off by a 12-yard TD run by quarterback Crum to give Kent State a 14-7 lead with 54 seconds left in the first quarter. That is how the quarter would end.
The Cowboys were once again held to a three-and-out on its first possession of the second quarter, and Kent State then moved the ball 49 yards in six plays, setting up a 36-yard field goal by place-kicker Andrew Glass to extend the Golden Flashes lead to 17-7, with 12:21 remaining in the first half.
Wyoming quarterback Williams took over on the next Cowboy possession. He carried for 19 yards on first down on a designed quarterback run. After no gain on the second play of the drive, Williams would explode down the right sideline on a 50-yard quarterback keeper for a touchdown to pull Wyoming to within three points at 17-14 with 5:39 remaining in the half.
The Cowboy defense would come up with a big stop on the next Kent State offensive series. The Golden Flashes broke a 47-yard run by running back Marquez Cooper on first down that took the ball down to the Wyoming 28-yard line. But UW’s defense then held KSU to a six-yard pass completion and a one-yard run. On a fourth and three from the 21, Kent State running back Marquez Cooper was tackled for a five-yard loss by Wyoming safety White, giving the ball back to the Pokes on downs.
After a run for no gain and a five-yard penalty for an ineligible player down field, UW faced a second and 15 from its own 21-yard line. Williams found Neyor for a 13-yard completion. On a third and two at the 34, Williams connected with tight end Christensen for 15 yards out to the Wyoming 49. A nine-yard run by Valladay to the Kent State 42-yard line would set up a 42-yard TD pass from Williams to Neyor that gave Wyoming the lead back at 21-17 with only 1:42 remaining.
Kent State was, however, not finished scoring in the first half. The Golden Flashes’ quarterback Crum carried for 22 yards, 37 yards and 12 yards on three carries, taking the ball down to the Wyoming four-yard line. After a one-yard run by Cooper, Crum finished the drive with a three-yard pass to wide receiver Ja’Shan Poke for the touchdown and Kent State would take a 24-21 lead into halftime.
The third quarter was all Wyoming’s. The Pokes scored two touchdowns while holding the Golden Flashes scoreless. UW’s touchdowns came on a 27-yard TD run by Williams and a three-yard touchdown run by Valladay to give the Cowboys a 35-24 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
A huge momentum swing happened early in the fourth quarter. With Kent Stat facing a fourth and two at the Wyoming 12-yard line, the Golden Flashes attempted a 29-yard field goal, but the kick was no good. On Wyoming’s very next play, Williams broke loose down the sideline for 80 yards and a touchdown to build Wyoming’s lead to 42-24.
KSU quarterback Crum would lead the Golden Flashes on a big touchdown drive of 71 yards in four plays that culminated in a six-yard TD pass to tight end Hayden Junker, pulling Kent State to within 11 points at 31-42, with 11:13 left on the clock. The big play on the drive was a 51-yard pass from Crum to wide receiver Nykiem Johnson.
Wyoming would respond seven plays later when place-kicker John Hoyland would make a career long 44-yard field goal, extending the Cowboys lead to 45-31.
UW would engineer one more scoring drive in the fourth quarter. After runs of eight and four yards by Williams, running back Trey Smith broke loose over the left side of the Cowboy offensive line and scampered 49 yards for a touchdown. It was the first touchdown of the season for Smith, and it gave Wyoming a 52-31 lead, with only 3:11 remaining in the game.
Kent State began its next possession at its own 27-yard line and on the very first play of the drive Crum found wide receiver Devontez Walker on a 73-yard catch and run for a TD to narrow the lead to 52-38 with 2:54 on the clock.
Kent State would attempt an onside kick, but the kick traveled only six yards rather than the required 10 yards, and Wyoming took possession at the Kent State 41-yard line. Runs of nine and 10 yards by Valladay, two and six yards by Smith and a nine-yard rush by Swen ran the clock down where Wyoming only had to kneel down twice and the Cowboys had captured their third consecutive bowl victory. This one by a score of 52-38.
The win improved Wyoming’s record to 7-6 on the season. Kent State fell to 7-7. For UW, it was the third win over a Mid-American Conference team this season. The Cowboys defeated Mid-American Conference Champion Northern Illinois in DeKalb, Ill., on Sept. 11 by a score of 50-43. UW also defeated Ball State in Laramie, Wyo., by a score of 45-12 on Sept. 18. Wyoming averaged 49.0 points per game in the three wins over MAC opponents in 2021.
Wyoming’s win improved the Cowboys’ record in bowl games to 9-8. The Pokes’ 7-6 record in 2021 marked the fourth time in the past six seasons that Wyoming has posted a winning record and the fifth time in the last six that UW has finished with a .500 record or better.
A first in Wyoming history
This year’s bowl invitation marked the fourth time in six seasons that Wyoming had earned a bowl bid. That is a first in the 125-year history of Cowboy Football. The previous best for the Wyoming Football program was four bowl game appearances in seven seasons from 1987 to 1993.
Head coach Craig Bohl becomes the first head coach in Wyoming Football history to take four Cowboy teams to bowl games. Bohl was previously tied with UW Athletics Hall of Fame Coach Paul Roach, with both coaches having taken three Wyoming teams to bowl games.