Pokes earn their stripes
LARAMIE – Craig Bohl has repeatedly said that he would learn more about his team in the first two quarters of the season than he did all through spring and fall camp.
The first quarter indicated that things might start to get ugly early in front of 26,000-plus Saturday evening inside a sun-spanked War Memorial Stadium. Another major program was about to waltz into Laramie and show that the Cowboys were still miles away from competing with the “big boys.”
Las Vegas sure thought so, branding the Pokes 18-point underdogs.
Missouri building a lightning quick 14-0 lead on its first two drives didn’t help the Cowboys’ cause at the sports book.
Then, the second quarter happened.
The next chapter of Wyoming’s audition for the head coach,
if you will.
Let’s just say he was impressed with that one.
Led by an opportunistic defense and an aggressive running
game, the Cowboys stormed back, scoring 27 points in the second quarter and
stunning the football world with a 37-31 upset win over the Missouri Tigers.
It was Bohl’s first win over a Power-5 team in nine tries
since he came to Laramie six seasons ago. It was the second straight Southeastern
Conference team to play in this building and suffer the same fate.
Fans poured out of the stands. Mizzou headed for the locker
room. The celebration was on.
“I got the heck out of the way,” Bohl laughed, talking about
the postgame festivities. “We are starting to learn a bit from other games.”
He couldn’t avoid the party waiting for him inside the home
locker room, though.
Screaming, chanting and singing could be heard through the
walls of the High-Altitude Performance Center. Bohl smiled as he walked to the
podium to address the media. His yellow shirt appeared to have some stains on
“We need more of that,” Bohl said of the bash happening one room away, where there was plenty of water being sprayed around. “We need to sing “Ragtime” more and we need to have more of those celebrations. Those are also parts of building blocks. I mentioned to (Wyoming athletics director) Tom Burman that what we are striving to do here is stay away from heavy ebbs and flows and establish a really good football program. One that people come to the game and they look -- either on TV or in the stands -- and go, ‘the Cowboys are just better. They’re just better.’
“I don’t know if we are to that point, but we had a big win
Kelly Bryant, the heralded Clemson transfer who took over for four-year starter Drew Lock at quarterback for Missouri, looked every bit the price of admission on the Tigers first two offensive possessions. With ease, the senior guided the visitors on scoring drives of 65 and 74 yards, culminating in a three-yard touchdown pass to Jonathan Nance and a two-yard plunge from Larry Rountree, respectively.
How bad was the first quarter for Wyoming?
While Mizzou was busy racking up 144 yards of offense and
scoring at will, the Cowboys ran just 10 plays for 28 yards – all on the ground
– and possessed the ball for 4:44.
Yeah, that bad.
But these Cowboys didn’t fold like in years past.
And it all started with a little chin music from back-up strong safety, Esaias Gandy, who hammered Bryant into the turf. Josiah Hall forcing the ball to pop loose on his way by. Teammate CJ Coldon was there to pounce, scooping up the fumble and flying 30 yards into the end zone.
“I knew we needed points,” Coldon said. “That’s big if you
get those. I feel like you can get a win.”
Wyoming’s sophomore running back, Xazavian Valladay, put the Pokes on the board again one drive later, busting through the line and into the clear for a 61-yard touchdown run. That, coupled with an earlier Cooper Rothe 19-yard field goal, gave the Pokes their first lead with 6:15 remaining in the quarter.
“I just saw the hole and accelerated through it,” said
Valladay, who finished the night with 119 yards rushing. “I’m really speechless
So was Mizzou.
Less than four minutes later, Wyoming’s redshirt freshman quarterback, Sean Chambers, found a hole of his own in the left side of the Tigers’ defense. The 6-foot, 3-inch, 218-pound signal caller bowled over a linebacker before stiff-arming a safety to the ground. He was in the open all alone. And 75 yards later, he was in the end zone.
The execution was flawless. The landing – not so much.
Chambers appeared to trip as he crossed the goal line.
“I didn’t know what I was going to do,” Chambers laughed. “I wanted to dive because I thought I was going to get caught. But then I kind of, I didn’t know how to dive, I guess you could say. I guess you could say I’m some unathletic athletic kid, if that makes sense. I really didn’t know what to do, I just wanted to get in the end zone. I kind of fell onto my face.”
Chambers finished the day just 6-of-16 through the air for 92 yards, but four the fourth time in his short five-game career, eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark with a team-high 120 Saturday night.
It got even crazier from there.
Just to add more drama to the second stanza, Bryant tossed a touchdown pass only to see it reversed on a pass interference call. Now at the Cowboys’ 17-yard line, Bryant heaved a pass across his body into the end zone. Right into the awaiting arms of Wyoming linebacker Cassh Maluia.
One threat thwarted.
Then the next one came with just a few ticks remaining on the first-half clock. Rountree took a handoff from the three-year line and promptly fumbled it right to Alijah Haliburton, who busted it down the Mizzou sideline.
Bryant caught him, but it would take a horse-collar tackle
to do it. The Cowboys received an untimed down and Rothe took care of the rest,
knocking through a 23-yard field goal before the half to give the Cowboys a
“I said, ‘where’s this ball going to be?’” Bohl said of
Rothe trotting on for the field goal. “That’s money right there. Another three points
in the bank. We were in a good position going into half.”
The Pokes weren't done yet.
Chambers and Co. marched 80 yards on 11 plays in the first possession of the third quarter, culminating in a one-yard Trey Smith touchdown to give Wyoming its largest lead of the afternoon at 34-17. The Cowboys were in full control.
Until they weren’t.
Mizzou went on back-to-back scoring drives, sandwiched by
another Rothe 20-yard field goal, taking just 1:10 and 42 seconds, respectively,
to find the end zone.
Bryant and the Mizzou offense were on the march once again
with under a minute to play. They had the ball at the Wyoming 26-yard line,
trailing by six. It looked like this one might slip away at the last-minute.
Then, an exhausted Cowboys defense rose up one last time.
“It’s hard. There was a lot of pressure,” Coldon said of that final Mizzou offensive possession that ended with an incomplete pass on 4th and 11. “Like I said, we prepared for it. We train in Laramie. We are built for it. We are cowboy tough.”
With the water still drying on his shirt and a grin on his
face, Bohl addressed the elephant in the room. Believe me, he knew he hadn’t
won a game of this magnitude since he got here.
Now, that’s all in the past.
“I’m going to reserve judgement for a couple of days and
then sidestep that question,” Bohl joked when asked if this was the biggest win
of his UW career.
He was still in the moment.
“They were throwing water everywhere,” he smiled.