Wyoming Cowboys survive 3rd tight finish; hold off 0-5 UConn

Wyo FB  Esaias Gandy.png
Posted at 8:48 AM, Sep 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-27 10:48:29-04

(Editor's note: UW Athletics release)

HARTFORD, Conn. -- The Wyoming Cowboys survived again on Saturday, this time with a 24-22 win at UConn after trailing most of the game. The Cowboys head into their bye week 4-0 after wrapping up their non-conference slate.

Unlike last week, when Wyoming built a 31-0 halftime lead at home over Ball State on way to a 45-12 victory, the Cowboys started slowly. But as they’d done twice before this season, against Montana State and Northern Illinois, the Pokes fought back from a 13-3 deficit at halftime to out-score the Huskies 21-9 in the second half.

“It was a great team win. We faced a lot of adversity today,” said head coach Bohl. “I think we made some things harder than what they should have been, however, I do think UConn has good players and they’ve been getting better. Their quarterback made a lot of plays.

“I thought we reestablished momentum in the second half when we got the downhill running game going. That proved to be our ace in the hole. We made some plays when we needed to. I thought we were done with this ‘cardiac’ stuff, but we’re not. All I know is it’s another W and we’re pleased with it.”

Wyoming’s comeback was keyed by a critical defensive stand by the Pokes early in the fourth quarter. Trailing 13-10, the Cowboys saw the Huskies put together a long drive of 74 yards, moving all the way down to the Wyoming five-yard line. It was critical that UW hold UConn to a field goal and keep the game a one-possession game. The Wyoming defense would rise to the occasion. On a third and five from the Wyoming five, Cowboy defensive end Solomon Byrd combined with safety Rome Weber to sack Huskie quarterback Tyler Phommachanh for 12 yards, pushing the ball back to the 17-yard line. UConn place-kicker Joe McFadden entered the game and made a 35-yard field goal -- his third on the day -- to extend the Huskies’ lead to 16-10. But allowing only a field goal meant the Cowboys were still within one touchdown of taking the lead.

On the Cowboys’ next offensive possession, the balanced attack that the Pokes have become known for this season would be put on display. Running back Xazavian Valladay would begin the drive with a 12-yard run on first down and would go on to carry the ball five times for 30 yards on the drive. UW running back Titus Swen added two runs for 15 yards, and Cowboy quarterback Sean Chambers would complete two passes to wide receiver Ayden Eberhardt for 32 yards, including a great catch by Eberhardt for 23 yards on a third down and seven from the UConn 24. That catch took the ball down to the UConn one-yard line where Valladay would carry the ball in for the go-ahead TD. That 77-yard drive gave Wyoming its first lead of the day at 17-16, but there was still 6:31 remaining in the game.

On UConn’s next possession, Cowboy free safety Esaias Gandy read Huskie quarterback Phommachanh’s eyes on the first play from scrimmage and intercepted the UConn QB’s pass at the Huskie 36-yard line. Gandy returned the interception seven yards to the UConn 29-yard line, and Wyoming had a chance to extend its lead.

Wyoming’s Swen gained 15 yards up the middle on first down. Valladay then rushed for three yards, followed by a six-yard run by Swen. On a third and one at the UConn five-yard line, Valladay picked up three yards and a first down. Swen finished off the drive with a two-yard TD run. Place-kicker John Hoyland made his third point after touchdown of the game to give Wyoming a 24-16 lead with only 3:34 remaining on the clock.

Beginning their final possession at their own 36-yard line, the Huskies drove 64 yards in 15 plays aided by three pass interference penalties against the Cowboys -- the third occurring in the end zone -- which placed the ball first and goal at the Wyoming two. Husky running back Nate Carter ran the ball into the end zone, and suddenly UConn trailed by only two points (22-24) with four seconds remaining in the game and a two-point conversion attempt coming for UConn. Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl and his coaching staff called back-to-back timeouts to see what formation the Huskies were going to try and utilize on the critical two-point attempt. In the end, Wyoming safety Weber came up with his second huge fourth quarter play by knocking down the UConn pass attempt, and Wyoming preserved the comeback victory.

Bohl was asked how concerned he was with the number of penalties.

“It’s hard to win when you get penalized 10 times for 99 yards,” said Bohl. “We need to clean that up. We’ve got to become more disciplined. It’s hard to win on the road and the last time I checked 10 penalties for 99 yards is almost worth a touchdown.”

“Having an off week after three really competitive games couldn’t come at a better time. We’re okay, but we have some guys playing with stingers and are banged up. It will help us get our legs back. We’re excited about entering conference play. We’re also extremely excited about being 4-0.”

Wyoming opens Mountain West Conference play on Saturday, Oct. 9 at Air Force at 5 p.m., Mountain Time and will be televised by CBS Sports Network.