by staff–1 Sep ’19
The day began with only the second Southeastern Conference (SEC) opponent in history visiting Wyoming’s War Memorial Stadium as the Missouri Tigers came to Laramie on Saturday. The day ended with the Wyoming Cowboys capturing a 37-31 victory over Missouri.
While the Cowboys found themselves trailing by a score of 14-0 at the end of the first quarter, it was an explosive second quarter that would see the Cowboys score 17 straight points to take a 17-14 lead, and the Pokes would extend their lead to 27-17 going into halftime.
Wyoming’s defense forced three turnovers, two forced fumbles and one interception, while not committing a single turnover on offense. UW’s defense also scored a touchdown on a fumble return. Speaking of the Cowboy offense, the Pokes rushed for 297 yards on 42 carries and averaged 7.1 yards per carry on the ground. Included in the potent rushing attack were touchdown runs of 61 yards by sophomore running back Xazavian Valladay and 75 yards by redshirt freshman quarterback Sean Chambers. Chambers concluded the day with 120 yards rushing, and Valladay ended the day with 118 rushing yards. Chambers added 92 passing yards for a total of 212 yards of total offense.
It marked the fifth time in the last six games for the Cowboys that they had two individuals each rush for 100 yards in the same game. The Pokes led the nation in that category last year with multiple players rushing for 100 or more yards in four different games.
Defensively, the Cowboys were led by senior strong safety Alijah Halliburton, who tallied 17 tackles, including 13 solo tackles and returned a fumble 79 yards to set up a Wyoming field goal. Senior linebacker Logan Wilson added 13 tackles and a pass breakup, and sophomore linebacker Chad Muma had 10 tackles. Sophomore cornerbackC.J. Coldon had a 30-yard fumble return for a touchdown and five tackles, and junior strong safety Esaias Gandy had five tackles and a forced fumble.
The Wyoming victory marked the fifth consecutive win for the Cowboys dating back to the end of the 2018 season, and is the first five-game winning streak for the Pokes since the middle of the 2016 season when they won five in a row from an Oct. 1, 2016 win at Colorado State thru a Nov. 5, 2016 victory at Utah State.
Wyoming is now 2-0 versus SEC teams in games played in Laramie. The other UW win over an SEC team in Laramie came on Sept. 25, 2004, when Wyoming defeated Ole Miss by a score of 37-32. The Cowboys have now won three of their last four meetings against SEC foes and have won four of their last six against the SEC, including wins at Ole Miss (24-14) in 2005 and at Tennessee (13-7) in 2008.
Fueling that second quarter scoring explosion by the Cowboys was a series of big plays by the Pokes. Wyoming would take its first possession of the second quarter and drive 53 yards in 12 plays with All-America place-kicker Cooper Rothe making his first attempt of the season from 19 yards out. It was Rothe’s 19th made field goal in his last 20 attempts. Then the explosion began on Missouri’s next possession, when sophomore cornerback C.J. Coldon would pick up a forced fumble caused by junior safety Esaias Gandy and return it 30 yards for a touchdown to make the score 14-10 in favor of Missouri.
After the Cowboys forced a three-and-out on Missouri’s next offensive possession, they took over at their own 39-yard line. Following an incomplete pass on first down, Cowboy sophomore running back Xazavian Valladay would break through the middle of the Missouri defense for a 61-yard touchdown run — the longest run of Valladay’s career — and Wyoming had its first lead at 17-14.
Missouri would tie the game at 17-17 with a field goal later in the second quarter, but on the first play from scrimmage following that Missouri field goal, Cowboy redshirt freshman quarterback Sean Chambers would break through the Missouri defense and scamper 75 yards for a TD, giving the Pokes the lead again at 24-17. It looked the the Tigers were going to tie the game right before halftime as they had a third and goal at the Wyoming one-yard line, but Wyoming senior linebacker Ben Wisdorf would knock the ball loose from Missouri running back Larry Roundtree and fellow senior safety Alijah Halliburton would scoop up the fumble and dash 79 yards down to the Missouri 12-yard line. Time appeared to expire on the fumble return, but Missouri was charged with a personal foul on the play, which moved the ball to the Missouri six-yard line and gave Rothe one play to come in and connect on a 23-yard field goal to extend the Cowboys’ lead to 27-17 on that final untimed down of the first half.
The Tigers received the opening kick of the second half and proceeded to drive down to the Wyoming two-yard line on their first possession of the third quarter. On third and goal from the Wyoming two, Bryant completed a pass to tight end Albert Okwuegbunam in the end zone for an apparent touchdown pass, but Okwuegbunam was called for offensive pass interference, placing the ball back at the Wyoming 17-yard line on third and goal again. Bryant then then a pass to the back of the end zone, but Cowboy senior linebacker Cassh Maluia anticipated the throw and intercepted the pass in the end zone, giving the Pokes their third forced turnover of the day.
The Cowboys followed that interception with their longest scoring drive of the game, an 11-play, 80-yard drive, culminating in a one-yard TD run by graduate transfer running back Trey Smith that gave Wyoming its largest lead of the game at 34-17 at the end of the third quarter.
To start the fourth quarter, Missouri punt returner Richaud Floyd returned a punt 43 yards down to the Wyoming 29-yard line and four plays later, Missouri running back Tyler Badie scored from one yard out, pulling the Tigers to within 10 at 34-24.
The Cowboys would put one final scoring drive together in the game, a nine-play, 38-yard drive that resulted in Rothe’s third field goal of the game –this one from 20 yards out — extending Wyoming’s lead to 37-24 with 7:01 remaining in the game. But Missouri was not done. The Tigers responded with their most explosive drive of the game — a three-play, 75-yard drive that concluded with a 53-yard touchdown pass from Bryant to wide receiver Jonathan Nance. The drive took only 42 seconds, and the Tigers now trailing by only six points at 37-31.
Wyoming was able to possess the ball four minutes on its final drive, but with 2:19 remaining the game the Cowboys had to punt the ball back to Missouri. The Tigers took over a their own 25 following the Wyoming punt. Missouri made it nervous for Cowboy fans as the Tigers drove 49 yards in 10 plays all the way to the Wyoming 20-yard line. On a third and 12 from the UW 20, Cowboy senior defensive end Josiah Hall sacked Bryant for six yards back to the 26. Bryant would attempt two more passes on third and 12 and fourth and 12, but both passes went incomplete, and the Wyoming Cowboys had to only take a knee one more play to seal the 37-31 home victory.
Next up for the Cowboys is a trip to Texas State next Saturday to face the Bobcats in a game scheduled to kick off at 5 p.m., Mountain Time.