FORT COLLINS, Co. - The Wyoming Cowboys came into Thursday night’s 112th Edition of the “Border War” looking for their fifth consecutive victory in the series. But a pair of first-quarter turnovers that were converted into 14 points by Colorado State was a deficit that UW could never overcome on way to a 34-24 loss to the Rams in Fort Collins.
There were many outstanding individual performances on the night for the Cowboys, unfortunately they weren’t enough to balance out not only the turnovers but also an uncharacteristic eight penalties for 83 yards by Wyoming -- several of them coming at critical times to stop drives. Wyoming entered the game ranked No. 4 in the nation in fewest penalty yards per game at 26.5 yards per game the first two weeks of the season.
Cowboy head coach Craig Bohl acknowledged that the early turnovers and penalties had a big impact on the game, while also giving credit to the way CSU played.
“Colorado State came out with a hard edge and they executed well,” said Bohl. “I think we did some things that were uncharacteristic of us. Typically, we’ve been ahead on the turnover margin and that didn’t occur tonight. And I thought we had way more penalties than we normally do.
“When you play a rivalry game you need to be on point and we weren’t. We are going to have to take a hard look at our preparation. We have to take ownership of our performance and have some hard conversations about where we’re at and how we respond.”
Asked how difficult it was to face the early deficit the Cowboys found themselves in, Bohl said, “I was concerned during that early part of the game that the deficit could grow to where it would have been insurmountable, but I thought our guys rallied and kept us in the game. But it seemed like everytime we rallied back they (CSU) answered.”
Wyoming junior running back Xazavian Valladay recorded his second consecutive 100-yard rushing game of the season and 10th of his career, rushing for 147 yards on the night. He also surpassed the 2,000-yard career rushing plateau, becoming only the 12th Cowboy in history to accomplish that feat. He now has 2,071 career rushing yards to rank 12th in school history.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Levi Williams also had a career best day passing, completing 19 of 31 passes (.612) for 321 yards. It was his first 300-yard passing game, but Williams was involved in both first quarter turnovers -- one an interception that CSU returned for a pick six and the other a fumble that later led to a touchdown.
Senior wide receiver Ayden Eberhardt was the other Cowboy who had a career best night. Eberhardt caught a career high seven passes for a career best 132 yards. It was the first 100-yard receiving game of Eberhardt’s career.
Defensively, Wyoming junior middle linebacker Chad Muma led all defenders in the game with a career high 17 tackles, including 1.5 tackles for loss. Senior safety Esaias Gandy recorded nine tackles, including 1.0 sack and 2.5 tackles for loss, which were career highs.
As a team, Wyoming out-gained Colorado State with 465 yards of total offense to CSU’s 342. The Cowboys ran for more yards (144 to 87) and threw for more yards (321 to 255) than the Rams. But CSU did not commit a turnover and was able to come up with big plays at critical times of the game.
The game began with the Wyoming defense forcing Colorado State into a punt on the opening possession of the game, and the Cowboys took over at their own 20-yard line. The first turnover by the Pokes came on their first possession when on a third and 12 from the 18. Williams pass was intercepted by CSU cornerback Marshaun Cameron for a 30-yard pick six to give the Rams a 7-0 lead.
On Wyoming’s second possession, UW was able to gain a first down but then on another third and 12, Williams was sacked and fumbled. CSU defensive tackle Manny Jones recovered the fumble, and on the very next play, Ram quarterback Patrick O’Brien found tight end Trey McBride on a 29-yard touchdown pass for a 14-0 lead with 9:13 still remaining in the first quarter.
Wyoming responded with its first solid drive of the game going 39 yards in eight plays down to the Colorado State 32, but on a fourth and two Valladay was tackled for a loss of four yards and CSU took over on downs.
CSU moved the ball down to the Wyoming 18-yard line, but Cowboy safety Gandy came up with a huge sack of O’Brien for nine yards back to the UW 27-yard line. Ram freshman place-kicker Robert Liss came on for a 45-yard field-goal attempt, but he missed wide right.
Each team would have one more possession in the first quarter, but the first period would end with the Rams leading 14-0.
Colorado State would continue their final possession of the first quarter into the second period. They would end up driving 61 yards in 10 plays, but on a third and goal from the Wyoming seven-yard line Cowboy safety Braden Smith sacked O’Brien for four yards back to the 11. Liss would come on and connect on a 29-yard field goal, giving the Rams a 17-0 lead.
The first possession of the second quarter for the Cowboys saw them generate their first scoring drive. The drive was keyed by four explosive plays. First came a 12-yard pass from Williams to Eberhardt. That was followed by a 33-yard pass from Williams to wide receiver Isaiah Neyor down to the Colorado State 34-yard line. Valladay would break a 21-yard run to the CSU 13, and on first and 10 from the 13 Trey Smith ran it into the end zone for the Pokes’ first score to pull to within 17-7.
The Rams responded with a 75-yard, nine-play drive, with the big play being a 28-yard pass from O’Brien to wide receiver Dante Wright taking the ball to the Wyoming 25. Four plays later, O’Brien hit tight end McBride or an eight-yard touchdown down to the UW one-yard line. O’Brien would carry the ball in from the one to build Colorado State’s lead to 24-7.
With 5:38 remaining in the half, UW’s two senior wide receivers came up with big catches on passes from Williams. First it was Dontae Crow with a 17-yard reception out to the Wyoming 40-yard line. Then Williams found Eberhardt on a 56-yard pass to the CSU three-yard line. Two plays later, Valladay ran in from two yards out to narrow the lead to 24-14.
After each team was forced to punt on their next possessions, the half would end with the score CSU 24 and Wyoming 14.
Wyoming would take the opening kickoff of the second half and it looked like they were on their way to a big series. Williams found Neyor on a 37-yard pass down to the CSU 18-yard line. But after the play, Neyor was called for unsportsmanlike conduct for spinning the ball on the CSU sideline, moving the ball back to the CSU 33. Smith gained back 11 yards on first down to the 22, but back-to-back sacks of eight yards each on Williams resulted in Wyoming having to punt. On the snap of the punt, the ball hit one of the Wyoming personal protectors. Cowboy punter Nick Null picked up the ball off the ground and tried to escape the rushing CSU defenders, but he was tackled and the ball was knocked loose. Colorado State linebacker Carter, who had intercepted a pass earlier in the game, recovered the fumble and returned it six yards to the Wyoming 48.
The Cowboy defense would force a three-and-out after that change of possession. Following the CSU punt, the Pokes took over at their own 12-yard line. Wyoming’s offense proceeded to drive 80-yards in 11 plays, with Valladay breaking a run of 38 yards and Williams connecting with tight end Treyton Welch on a 25-yard pass to the CSU 10-yard line. After three plays, the Ram defense forced UW into a field-goal attempt and true freshman place-kicker John Hoyland came on to make a 25-yarder to pull Wyoming to within a touchdown at 24-17 and give the Cowboys some momentum.
Colorado State would quickly take the momentum back when kick returner Thomas Pannunzio caught the ball at the six-yard line and brought the kickoff back 41 yards to the CSU 47. It would take CSU only four plays for O’Brien and tight end McBride to connect on a 38-yard pass and run for a touchdown -- McBride’s second TD reception from O’Brien on the night. The Rams led by two touchdowns again at 31-17.
Each team’s defense would force a three-and-out and the third quarter would end with Colorado State in the lead by 14 points.
To start the fourth quarter, Wyoming gained 25 yards before being forced to punt. Cowboy punter Null placed a beautiful 48-yard punt down on the CSU two-yard line where it was downed by the Cowboys. UW’s defense followed up that perfect punt forcing another three-and-out. After a CSU punt, the Pokes took over at their own 44-yard line.
Wyoming’s offense turned to its passing attack on its next possession. A first-down pass from Williams to Eberhardt went for 15 yards. On a third and 10, Williams hit tight end Jackson Marcotte on a 12-yard pass for a first down. Williams then found Eberhardt across the middle for 17 yards. Runs of eight and one yard by Valladay put the ball at the CSU three-yard line. Williams carried the ball into the end zone from there to pull the Pokes back to within a touchdown at 24-31 with 8:18 remaining in the game.
The Colorado State offense would control the clock for the next 5:32, driving 46 yards down the field in 11 plays. They would bring on place-kicker Liss for a 48-yard field-goal attempt, and the freshman would convert giving CSU a 34-24 lead with only 2:46 remaining in the game.
UW would have two possessions in the final 2:46, but weren’t able to generate a drive, and for the first time in five years the “Bronze Boot” was won by Colorado State.
Not only was Friday’s “Border War” game the 112th in history but it marked the 75th consecutive year the two teams had met since the end of World War II. This year’s meeting was the 53rd time the two rivals played for the Bronze Boot traveling trophy. Wyoming leads the Bronze Boot portion of the series 28-25. In the past 75 meetings beginning in 1946, the Cowboys also lead 43-32-0. CSU leads the overall series 59-48-5.
Next up for the Cowboys is a matchup with the Air Force Falcons on Saturday, Nov. 14 in laramie. That game is scheduled to kick off at 8 p.m., M.T. and will be televised on CBS Sports Network and broadcast on radio over the Cowboy Sports Network. A total of 7,000 fans will be allowed to attend next Saturday’s game at Wyoming’s War Memorial Stadium.