Turning point, unsung hero and what’s next for UW football
DEKALB, Ill., -- It's the 32-yard kick that never happened.
It's the decision that nearly cost the Cowboys a win.
It was the opening question to Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl in his postgame press conference, just minutes after avoiding one of the worst meltdowns in Wyoming football history.
Why on earth didn't he send John Hoyland out for a chip-shot field goal that would've made this a 23-point game early in the fourth quarter?
"In hindsight, boy, after that didn't happen did I second guess myself? Yeah," Bohl said. "But that was the information that I went on. That was my call."
With the ball resting on the NIU 14-yard line and the Cowboys needing just a single yard on fourth down, Bohl decided to forgo the field goal that would've possibly made this a three-possession game and instead put his faith in his veteran offensive line and the Mountain West's back-to-back leading rusher, Xazavian Valladay.
It didn't work.
The Huskies stuffed Valladay for a loss. Just four plays later, Harrison Waylee was catching his breath after a 75-yard touchdown run.
On the Cowboys' very next offensive snap, Sean Chambers tossed a lateral to Valladay. He didn't make the grab. Instead, NIU jumped on the loose change and in an instant Waylee was back in the end zone.
With the sparse crowd inside Huskie Stadium feeling the momentum shift, Wyoming's next three plays netted a combined minus-15 yards. Chambers stumbled and fell inside his own 10-yard line on third down.
Ten plays and 75 yards later, NIU had a 43-42 lead.
Bohl's decision never loomed larger.
"A couple things went into that at that time," he said. "We hadn't had a negative run at all and we'd been controlling the line of scrimmage. Quite frankly, I saw the snap the time before -- and we've been working like crazy on that. That was the low-trajectory kick. So, you know, you just kind of balance those things out.
"Nothing told me that we were not going to be able to at least advance and get a yard at that time."
Bohl joked that he gnashed his teeth and bit his tongue, brooding about his potential mistake.
With just 4:56 remaining and the ball at their own 25, Chambers and Co. found themselves in a very familiar spot. It took an eight-play, 75-yard drive to escape the upset bid by Montana State in Laramie last week.
This time it would be a 10-play doozie that included an 18-yard rush and a 10-yard catch by Illinois native, Valladay. Chambers also lobbed a back-shoulder throw to Isaiah Neyor down the sideline that resulted in a 30-yard completion and the ball inside the Huskies' 5-yard line.
On first down: incomplete pass.
Second: incomplete pass.
With that decision not to add the easy three still looming, Wyoming milked just a few precious seconds off the clock.
Facing a 3rd-and-goal from the nine, Bohl decided to put the game in his quarterback's hands -- or legs.
"Just go score, why not end it in dramatic fashion? I think we knew we had a really good call," Chambers said with a wide grin.
That was a naked bootleg to Chambers' left. No one was home.
"Such is life," Bohl said about his decision not to kick. "I'm just glad we won."
Wyoming 50, Northern Illinois 43
This honor goes to super senior Ayden Eberhardt. The Cowboys' most-tenured wide out caught just four passes for 49 yards against NIU, but they were big ones -- The type that keep the chains moving. The Colorado product had a pair of third-down grabs and also drew a pass-interference penalty that led to a seven-yard Valladay touchdown early in the second quarter. Eberhardt has become a major safety outlet for Chambers throughout the first two games of the season. When the Cowboys need a big play to keep a drive alive, No. 19 is always on the radar.
"I wasn't expecting the ball to come to me really at all. I was just kind of stepping up and getting off the tight end right there. Then I saw the ball coming, so I was thinking I'm going to jump up and maybe tip it, get in the way of it. It's just kind of right in my hands. It surprised me a little bit. He kind of just threw it right to me."
— Wyoming junior linebacker Chad Muma on the interception he snagged in the third quarter off the right arm of NIU quarterback, Rocky Lombardi, that made it a 42-16 game with 6:03 remaining in the frame.
Had enough MAC-tion for one week? Well, get ready for another team from this conference in Week 3. Ball State, the defending MAC champions, will pay a visit to War Memorial Stadium this Saturday for a 2 p.m. kickoff. The Cardinals knocked off Western Illinois 31-21 in the opener and just fell this evening inside Beaver Stadium to Penn State, 44-13. This will be the first-ever matchup between Ball State and Wyoming. The two teams were scheduled to play in Muncie, Indians last September before COVID-19 wiped out the non-conference season for both schools.