The Wyoming football team made its way back to the college football post season and they made the most of it. Wyoming faced off against Georgia State in the Nova Home Loans Arizona Bowl in Tucson. Wyoming would come away with a 38-17 victory over Georgia State on the last day of the decade.
The Cowboys missed the post season in 2018 despite winning the minimum six games. This year Wyoming would not be denied. Despite the rash of injuries sustained at multiple positions the Cowboys put themselves in position to make it to the post season.
Georgia State came into the game finishing their ninth season of existence. The program was founded in 2010 and started in FCS. After transitioning to FBS and finding a home in the Sun Belt Conference the Panthers started making a little bit of noise. This was their third ever bowl appearance and third time playing a Mountain West opponent. The Panthers are now 1-2 in bowl games and 0-3 against Mountain West teams.
Georgia State starting quarterback Dan Ellington tore his ACL in a game against Louisiana-Monroe earlier in the season and refused to be benched. He was determined on finishing his senior season in his own way. Ellington did not disappoint and played like a senior leader, going 13/26 for 156 yards and a touchdown, and also rushing for 70 yards on 14 carries and a touchdown.
The Panthers would get the scoring started in this bowl game marching down the field on the opening drive in six plays capping off with an Ellington touchdown from four yards out.
Wyoming’s defense would quickly get the message and did what they’ve been so good at all year, and that’s locking down opponents.
Wyoming’s scoring started with a Cooper Rothe career long field goal of 53 yards to put the Pokes on the board. Wyoming would respond to their own drive with another score, Austin Conway catching an 18 yard pass from Levi Williams. The field position on this drive was setup by the defense stuffing the Panthers on 4th and 1 on a failed backfield pass.
Williams, the true freshman was making his first start as a Cowboy. It was decided earlier in the week that Williams would start over the soon to be departing Tyler Vander Waal. Williams had himself a day. Williams finished the day 11/26 for 234 yards and three touchdowns, and rushed for 53 yards and a score. The 234 yards passing were a season high for the Cowboy offense.
The Cowboys second touchdown of the day was a product of the defense coming out and doing their job. A Dan Ellington pass was intercepted on the first play of the drive by Alijah Halliburton and downed at the 11 yard line. Wyoming would score three plays later, a Williams pass to Xazavian Valladay. Georgia State would go on a 13 play drive and end up with a field goal.
With Wyoming up by only one score the Cowboys needed a drive and a score to feel like this game was on its way to being put away. A Cowboy drive stalled at the 34 yard line after a Williams sack. As the Cowboys were punting Georgia State defender Evan Jones roughed Wyoming punter Ryan Galovich and the Cowboys were given a first down. Three players later Williams hit Ayden Eberhardt on a 51 yard touchdown pass that was nothing short of crazy.
With the game looking more and more like it was in hand the Cowboys did not relent. Wyoming went up one point 31-10 and eventually scored once more on a Levi Williams rush to the outside pylon to give the Pokes a 38-17 lead and eventually ice the game with solid defense and a healthy dose of rushing attack the rest of the way.
Xazavian Valladay was named Arizona Bowl MVP after rushing for 204 yards and one touchdown, as well as receiving 91 yards of passes and a score. Valladay’s 1265 yards on the season gave Valladay the Mountain West rushing title for the season. He is the first Wyoming running back to lead the Mountain West in rushing.
Alijah Halliburton was the defensive MVP of the Arizona Bowl. Halliburton had 11 tackles on the day, as well as an interception that led to a Cowboy touchdown. Halliburton finished the season with 130 tackles on the season.
This was Craig Bohl’s second bowl win since coming to Wyoming in 2014. Wyoming has now improved to 8-8 all-time in bowl games. Attendance for the game was 36,082.
The Cowboys will bid farewell to 13 seniors and welcome in a talented signing class just signed two weeks ago.