Laramie, WY – On a sunny and warm late summer day on the high plains the offensive football on display for the 20,293 fans in attendance was not nearly as nice as the weather. Wyoming and Wofford both struggled offensively at times but the Pokes found their offensive footing when they needed it the most in the closing moments of the game, in a with a 17-14 win over Wofford of the Big South Conference. The last-minute score evened the Cowboys record at 2-2 on the heels of back to back losses to Washington State and Missouri.
The scoring for the game was opened up by Wyoming when Cooper Rothe converted a 20-yard field goal with 8:16 left in the second quarter. The offense was set-up by the defense when Youhanna Ghaifan forced a fumble that was recovered by Sidney Malauulu who then handed the ball off to Antonio Hull who went 15 yards downfield to the Wofford 10 yard line. Wofford would respond by scoring a touchdown on the next drive taking a 7-3 lead with 4:32 left in the second quarter after some bad tackling resulted in a Wofford 44 yard run down to the Wyoming 21 yard line setting up the score.
The Pokes bounced back with a nice drive near the end of the half though with Tyler Vander Waal finding tight end Tyree Mayfield with a 6-yard pass. It was Vander Waal’s first touchdown pass of the season and the first of his career as a redshirt freshman. That would bring the score to 10 to 7 Wyoming going into halftime.
In the second half, Wofford received the kickoff and drove down the field to the Wyoming 20 yard line hoping to retake the lead but Andrew Wingard had other ideas. He intercepted Joe Newman’s pass in the end zone with a one-handed snag in the back left corner. The two teams would trade off on fruitless drives until Wofford broke through early in the fourth quarter taking a 14-10 lead with 13:06 left in the game on a 4-yard run by QB Joe Newman.
The possibility of Wyoming losing this game at home to FCS opposition was very real but the Wyoming defense kept the Cowboys in the game long enough for the offense to respond. Wyoming put together a drive with their backs against the wall to avoid the upset when Tyler Vander Waal found Rocket Ismail Junior with a 9-yard game-winning touchdown pass. That brought the score to 17-14 Wyoming with just 17 seconds left on the clock and Wyoming would put the game on ice when nickel linebacker Chavez Pownell Jr. filling in for an injured Tyler Hall had an interception.
The key series did not take much choosing this week as it chose itself. With 1:59 left in the game Wyoming started a drive from their own 20-yard line trailing Wofford 14-10. This was after the previous drive ended on the Wofford 16 after a Tyler Vander Waal interception so it would have surprised no one if the offense would have been a little gun shy and lacked confidence. Instead, the Pokes offense put that behind them and marched down the field for a 13 play drive that covered 80 yards in just 1:42. The drive was capped off by a Vander Waal to Ismail Junior pass as mentioned above but there were several other key plays that made that touch down score possible.
Early in the drive, Wyoming completed two pass plays to get their momentum going with Vander Waal finding Rocket Ismail Junior on the first play of the drive for 17 yards and then James Price for 16 yards on another first down play. The Pokes also faced a key fourth and four at the Wofford 19 and Valladay converted the first down catching an underthrown pass down to the Wofford 9 yard-line.
“I just tried to be calm. I told the guys before we went out there that we have two minutes to go 80 yards and score. We worked too hard in the summer to not win this game.”
Wyoming QB Tyler Vander Waal on the game winning drive
– Wyoming is now 14-2 against FCS opposition since the year 2000. The previous win against an FCS team before today’s win was last season at home versus Gardner Webb and the last FCS loss was at home to North Dakota in 2015. The next FCS opponent on the Wyoming football schedule is Idaho in 2019.
– Xazavian Valladay carried the load at running back with Nico Evans and Jevon Bigelow out. I thought that he did a good job especially not having a chance to get in a real rhythm as a runner. I was surprised they did not run him more but I suppose they did not want to wear him out or risk injury to their only healthy true running back by giving him an extra five to ten carries over the fifteen carries he did have.
– I don’t think it is a coincidence that Tyler Vander Waal had his best drives at the end of the first and second halves. In the first half, Wyoming took the ball with 4:32 left and scored a touchdown. While in the second half Vander Waal ran a very efficient two-minute drill for the game-winning score. In these situations, it’s possible as a redshirt freshman QB he is thinking less and just going out there and trying to make plays in crunch time. Perhaps Wyoming needs to apply these concepts in other portions of the game even though it may not be the ideal offense Bohl and his staff would like to run. Those two drives to end each half resulted in 155 yards of offense which is almost half of the total 313 yards Wyoming had for the game.
– With 12 tackles today Andrew Wingard has 399 for his career and is only 41 tackles behind Wyoming great Jim Talich (LB from 1994-97) for third on the career tackle list at Wyoming. Additionally, Wingard is only 55 tackles behind Carmen Messina for the top spot on the all-time Mountain West career tackles list.
Quick Box Score
Score by Quarters
QB Tyler Vander Waal: 25 / 42 – 224 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT
RB Xazavian Valladay: 15 rushes – 59 yards, 3 receptions – 23 yards
WR Austin Conway: 11 receptions – 89 yards
TE: Tyree Mayfield: 3 receptions – 38 yards, 1 TD
DE Garret Crall: 6 tackles – 1 sack
S Andrew Wingard: 12 tackles, 1 interception
K Cooper Rothe: 1/1 FG – 20 yards
Wyoming will have their first of two bye weeks next weekend and will return to action at home on September 29th opening up Mountain West Conference play against Boise State.