LARAMIE, Wyo. – The Wyoming Cowboys concluded 2018 Spring Practice with a Spring Game that ended in exciting fashion on Saturday. The Brown Team took an 8-7 lead with 1:45 remaining in the game on a 74-yard drive, only to see the Gold Team respond with a 56-yard, game-winning drive of its own with no time left on the clock to win the game 10-8. Those two drives saw senior quarterback Nick Smith and redshirt freshman QB Tyler Vander Waal each lead one of the scoring drives.
With 3:39 remaining in the game, the Brown team took the ball on its own 26-yard line trailing by a score of 7-0. After an incomplete pass on first down, a 10-yard, second-down run by sophomore running back Mike Green II gave Brown the ball at the 36-yard line. Smith would follow that first down with completions of eight yards to redshirt freshman wide receiver Justyn Stindt and 15 yards to redshirt freshman tight end Nate Weinman, moving the ball to the Gold 41-yard line. After two incomplete passes and a three-yard run by junior wide receiver Milo Hall, the Brown team faced a fourth and seven from the Gold 38-yard line. Smith would then step into a 38-yard touchdown throw to sophomore receiver Dontae Crow in the corner of the end zone. The Brown team decided to go for the lead and attempt a two-point conversion. Smith completed a pass to Green for the successful two-point conversion to give Brown the 8-7 lead with 1:45 remaining.
After the ensuing kickoff went out of bounds, the Gold Team began its drive at its own 35-yard line. Vander Waal started the possession with a nine-yard completion to junior wide receiver Austin Conway. An incompletion followed and on third and one, senior running back Nico Evans gained the one yard needed for a first down. Vander Waal would connect with Conway for 10 yards and another first down, taking the ball into Brown territory at the 45-yard line. A three-yard run by Vander Waal combined with his third completion to Conway for nine yards put the ball at the 33. Evans would rush for 11 yards, taking the ball to the 22 as the Gold Team took a timeout with only 17 seconds remaining in the game. Vander Waal attempted to hit senior wide receiver James Price in the right corner of the end zone, but the pass was incomplete, however interference was called on Brown. The 15-yard penalty placed the ball at the seven-yard line. Vander Waal ran a quarterback sneak to the middle of the field for two yards to set up the field goal attempt. After a timeout, junior place-kicker Cooper Rothe hit the 25-yard, game-winning field goal to give the Gold Team the 10-8 victory as time expired.
Following the game, head coach Craig Bohl met with the media to share his assessment of the Spring Game.
“Today was an opportunity for us to put our team in a game-like situation,” said Bohl. “I don’t think there were any injuries, so I’m always pleased about that. There is nothing you can do to replicate those two-minutes drives. Even though it’s the Spring Game, those guys feel like its a real game, so I thought it was a really good evaluation tool.
“Some of the observations I saw, I thought our offensive line did a good job at the point of attack. I thought our running backs ran hard. Both quarterbacks threw the ball fairly well. It was the first time we were on the shot clock, so we’ve got to manage our clock a little bit better. However, I thought the two-minute drive at the end was encouraging. I thought for the most part at the point of attack we tackled well. The kicking game needs to get shored up a little bit. A couple of Cooper’s (Rothe) kickoffs have got to be better than that. It was encouraging to see him hit the winning field goal.
“Outside of that, I thought a really good spring and we’ve got to keep moving this program forward.”
Smith and Vander Waal rotated between both the Brown and Gold teams throughout the game. Smith actually led the victorious Gold team on its first touchdown drive of the game in the second quarter — a 10-play, 75-yard drive that was capped off by a three-yard TD run by Evans at the 9:29 mark of the second quarter.
Smith finished the day completing a combined 8 of 12 passes (66.7 percent) for 96 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. Vander Waal completed 15 of 23 passes (65.2 percent) for 129 yards, no TDs and no interceptions. Smith was sacked twice for a -12 yards rushing. Vander Waal was sacked five times for a -32 yards rushing.
Asked about how he thought the quarterbacks played and whether he was ready to name a starter, Bohl responded, “We’ll name a starting quarterback next week some time. But I can tell you this, the competition during the course of spring was so close, and I thought today was close. We’ll name a starter, but that does not mean that guy is entrenched, whoever that may be.
“Brent (Vigen, offensive coordinator) and I have had some long conversations. We don’t believe in playing two different guys, alternating quarters or things like that, however I do believe it’s good for us to have good competition.
“I thought they threw the ball well. Some of our protections need to get cleaned up, but I thought they moved around well.”
Evans led all rushers with 111 yards on 18 carries, scored one rushing touchdown, had a long run of 20 yards and averaged 6.2 yards per carry. Green ran for 43 yards on 11 attempts, had a long run of 10 yards and averaged 3.9 yards per carry. He also caught the successful two-point conversion pass from Smith and had another catch of eight yards.
“What you saw today (from our running backs) were a lot of yards after contact,” said Bohl. “I don’t know what the stat sheet showed, but I felt we were moving the ball on the ground and created a lot of third down and makeables and that is a significant difference from where we’ve been. I thought the running backs ran hard, and I thought Nico (Evans) ran particulary hard.”
Crow led all receivers with three catches for 85 yards, including his 38-yard touchdown grab. Conway caught six passes for 37 yards. Senior tight end Josh Harshman had four receptions for 32 yards, and Hall caught three passes for 31 yards.
While the offenses did generate the two big drives at the end of the game, both defenses played well throughout. The Gold Defense held the Brown Offense to only 184 yards on 39 plays for only 4.7 yards per play. The Brown Defense held the Gold Offense to only 188 yards on 46 plays for only a 4.1-yard average per play.
Leading the Brown Defense was junior strong safety Alijah Halliburton, who had eight tackles, including four solo stops. He was joined on the Brown Defense by sophomore nose tackle Josh Calvert, with five tackles, 2.0 tackles for loss and 1.0 sack. Redshirt freshman cornerback C.J. Coldon also had five tackles, 1.0 TFL and 1.0 sack, and redshirt freshman defensive tackle Gavin Dunayski recorded five tackles, 1.5 TFLs and 1.5 sacks.
The Gold Defense saw sophomore strong safety Esaias Gandy make five tackles, including four solos, 1.0 TFL and 1.0 sack. Also recording five tackles for the Gold Defense was sophomore linebacker Ryan Gatoloai-Faupula. Gatoloai-Faupula’s high school teammate, redshirt freshman defensive tackle Victor Jones, added four tackles.
Bohl was also asked if he felt he was any closer at determining who may have taken a step forward in the competition at cornerback.
“We think C.J. (Coldon) has really good ability,” said Bohl. “You saw Tyler Hall going back and forth today between nickel and corner. Ideally we’d like to have three corners. We’ll continue to take a hard look at that as we go.”
Rothe, who made the game-winning field goal, was 1 of 3 on the day, missing from 43 and 47 yards. Sophomore punter Tim Zaleski punted seven times for an average of 42.4 yards per punt. He placed four of his seven punts inside the opponents’ 20-yard line.
On the injury front, both of the Cowboys’ starting offensive tackles — senior Zach Wallace and sophomore Alonzo Velazquez — were hurt in Thursday’s practice and didn’t participate in the Spring Game. Bohl said that Wallace’s injury was a calf muscle pull that should take about four weeks to recover from, while Velazquez suffered a concussion. He said he expected both to be back for summer conditioning.
There were no turnovers in Saturday’s Spring Game. The Gold Team was called for only one penalty for five yards, while the Brown Team was penalized six times for 50 yards.
Saturday marked the 15th and final practice of 2018 Spring Drills. The Cowboys will kick off the 2018 season on Saturday, Aug. 25 at New Mexico State. The home season will begin on Saturday, Sept. 1 when the Pokes host PAC-12 conference member Washington State.