Turning point, unsung hero and what’s next for UW football
LAS VEGAS -- Wyoming took a delay of game on the first play after the kickoff.
That's inexcusable from Pop Warner to the NFL and everywhere between.
That was the Cowboys' first mistake. It gets worse.
After a one-yard run by Levi Williams that ended with a violent slam into the unforgiving turf at Sam Boyd Stadium, the redshirt freshman was hammered by New Mexico's Ben Gansallo the following play. Not only did the sack cost the Cowboys six yards, Williams appeared to land on the ball, which he had tucked under his throwing shoulder.
He got up and grabbed his rib area. Then, he went down again.
Trainers rushed to the field. He couldn't go on.
Enter Gavin Beerup.
Sure, the true freshman got a few snaps in last week's blowout win over UNLV in this same city, but he never attempted a pass. Beerup spent the majority of fall camp in quarantine. The 6-foot, 5-inch, 190-pound signal caller from California was behind when it comes to the Cowboys overly complicated offense. It wasn't until last week he was named Williams' full-time back-up.
Before that it was between him and Ryan Marquez, the team's current place holder and wide out.
So, here comes Beerup, facing a 3rd and 20 from his own 37. The Cowboys trailing the winless Lobos, 17-16. There was just 6:13 left on the clock.
Not exactly an ideal spot for anyone let alone a rookie who would surely be tasked with making his first collegiate throw.
Sure enough, he did.
He connected with Ayden Eberhardt, a wide receiver that had just one target to that point after snagging 10 passes the previous two games for 174 yards. That throw -- an NFL toss from the right hash to the left side of the field -- went for 18 yards.
Now facing a 4th and 2 at the New Mexico 45, Craig Bohl decided to gamble and go for it. This is Vegas after all.
Beerup took the snap, put the ball in Trey Smith's stomach and yanked it out as Lobo defenders started to crash. They went after Smith, a guy who had been gashing New Mexico all night long.
Beerup had the ball.
The lanky quarterback took off down the seam. He went 38 yards before being caught from behind.
The Pokes were in business at the New Mexico seven.
This one was about to be pulled out of the fire, right?
Smith got it to the four on the next play. Then, the worst-case scenario happened. Smith took the next handoff and broke to the left. There was an opening. A big one. He had to shake Brandon Shook, a senior linebacker.
That would've been bad enough. Wyoming would've been facing a 3rd and goal. Third-down conversions weren't exactly a strength for the visitors on this night. The Cowboys were 1-for-11 in that category.
Instead, the ball was popped loose. It bounced toward the sideline but didn't quite make it. The arms of Jake Saltonstall corralled it first.
He plays for the Lobos.
"I let the whole State of Wyoming down, I let my teammates down and I let my coaches down," an emotional Smith said postgame. "I got to do better. I got to be better. That shouldn't happen. That's my fault. The team fought as hard as they could. That's my error. It's just hard right now."
Wyoming would get the ball back one last time. This time it was at their own 44-yard line. They still had two timeouts. John Hoyland, the freshman walk-on placekicker was already 3-for-3 on the night. Postgame, he said he felt comfortable in the 50-yard range and that he had been making 52-yarders in practice.
It never got that far.
Beerup threw three consecutive incomplete passes before tossing a fourth-down heave across his body and into the awaiting arms of Shook.
That's just a snippet of why New Mexico no longer holds the nation's longest losing streak.
New Mexico 17, Wyoming 16
With Chad Muma and Charles Hicks (injury) out of the game -- we'll get to that in a minute -- redshirt freshman Easton Gibbs saw more action on the Cowboys' defense than he is used to.
That turned out to not be such a bad thing.
Sure, missing Muma is never ideal, but Gibbs did his best Muma impression, registering 10 tackles and a take down behind the line of scrimmage.
That happened to be a big one, too.
With New Mexico trailing 13-10 but knocking on the door just outside the Wyoming 5-yard-line, Danny Gonzales decided to go for it on 4th and 1. The Lobos had success on the ground all night long.
What's a yard? Especially when you have a horse like Bobby Cole to give it to.
Cole did indeed get the handoff, but was stuffed. Gibbs was hanging onto his legs. The Cowboys got the stand and kicked a field goal nine plays later to extend the lead.
"It was an interception. It was an interception, it just got overturned and Chad (Muma) got called for targeting the wide receiver. As the rules go, that's what should've been called.”
— Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl on the targeting ejection of middle linebacker Chad Muma. This bizarre play started with a pass breakup and an interception by Braden Smith that was returned for a touchdown. Referees called a holding on the return, which negated the score. But after reviewing the play, they hit Muma with the targeting foul and gave the ball back to New Mexico.
The season finale. Is that depressing or what? The schedule makers -- or better yet, the Mountain West, which was forced to scramble in early October -- saved the best for last. Perennial power Boise State will travel to Laramie Saturday for a 4 p.m. kickoff inside what might possibly be a frigid War Memorial Stadium. It's early, but weather reports have this one near the teens. The Broncos are 4-1 overall. Their lone loss came at the hands of BYU. Boise State, because of COVID-19 issues, hasn't played a game in two weeks. It will be nearly three when they touch down in Laramie next weekend. These teams have met 14 times. Wyoming (2-3) has won just once. You probably recall that 30-28 victory in 2016. There was a guy named Josh Allen under center for the Pokes. I think there might have been a huge safety caused by Chase Appleby, too. Bowl implications -- not to mention a possible berth in the conference title game -- could be on the line. Boise State's path is pretty clear.