By Tim Harkins, University of Wyoming
The Wyoming Cowboys and Montana State Bobcats waged a war of wills against each other on Saturday in Wyoming’s War Memorial Stadium.
In the end, it was an eight-play, 75-yard drive by the Cowboys that gave Wyoming a 19-16 lead with only 47 seconds remaining in the game to give UW the victory.
Montana State fought to the very end, running out of time on its final possession of the game at the Wyoming 40-yard line.
The two teams entered the fourth quarter with Montana State holding a 7-3 lead, but in the first five possessions of the fourth quarter the two teams scored on each of those five drives — the Cowboys scoring two touchdowns and a field goal, while the Bobcats converted a 53-yard field goal and a 75-yard TD drive. Wyoming scored 16 of its 19 points in the fourth quarter, with scoring drives of 52, 67 and 75 yards.
The Cowboys took their first lead of the game at the 13:36 mark of the fourth quarter when running back Xazavian Valladay carried the ball in from two yards out to put the Pokes ahead 9-7.
A bad snap on the extra point left the score at 9-7. Montana State responded with a 40-yard drive of its own, concluding with a 53-yard field goal by place-kicker Blake Glessner to put the Bobcats back in the lead at 10-9, with 10:23 remaining.
The Cowboys took their next possession and moved 67 yards in 13 plays that finished with a 25-yard field goal from place-kicker John Hoyland to give Wyoming a 12-10 lead with 6:20 remaining. But once again, the Bobcats replied with a five-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to regain the lead at 16-12 with only 2:17 left in the game.
Wyoming had to score a touchdown to retake the lead, and quarterback Sean Chambers saved his best for last.
He began the Pokes’ final drive running for eight yards himself.
Then he completed a 24-yard strike to wide receiver Joshua Cobbs. After an incompletion, Chambers hit wide receiver Ayden Eberhardt for a seven-yard gain. He followed that up with a nine-yard pass completion to fullback Parker Christensen and a second scamper by Chambers for six yards.
He failed to connect with wide receiver Isaiah Neyor on the next play, but on third and four from the MSU 21, Chambers found tight end Treyton Welch down the middle of the field in the end zone as Welch made a one-handed catch against his body.
Chambers was 4 of 6 passing on the drive for 61 yards and carried the ball twice for 14 yards to put the Cowboys back on top 19-16. With only 47 seconds on the clock, Montana State did gain 35 yards on five plays, making its way down to the Wyoming 40-yard line as time expired, giving the Cowboys a hard-fought 19-16 victory to open the 2021 season.
“Heck of a ball game,” Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl said in his postgame press conference. “Credit to Brent Vigen and their (Montana State’s) coaching staff. I thought they were well-prepared and had a good game plan.”
“Certainly, we were out of sync, particularly in the first half and had a hard time getting some things generated. “From my experience, you make the most improvement in between the first and second game, and that’s gonna be very important. We will be laboring on Labor Day. We have to stay hungry, and we have to play better. But I will not discredit the execution of the two-minute drive. I thought that was outstanding and our resolve and belief to play.
“Treyton (Welch) is an excellent player. I think he’s going to rise to become one of the top tight ends in the league. He’s got great hands. It was a super route.
“Sean (Chambers) put the ball where it needed to be, and the offense gave him great protection. We got in a little bit of a rhythm with Sean. We were able to pop some runs that we were not able to pop in the first half. We need to build off that. We are going to be positive about how we did respond. I’m happy we won, there are great things we did, but there’s a lot of work to do.”
Montana State led 7-3 at halftime in the low-scoring affair. Wyoming ended the first half having run 29 plays for 109 yards, while MSU ran 32 plays for 130 yards. Each team turned the ball over once in the first half — Wyoming on an interception and Montana State on a fumble after a pass completion. At the end of the game, it was the Cowboys who had the slight edge in plays and total yards, running 69 plays for 347 yards.
The Bobcats ended the day with 59 total plays and 321 yards of total offense. Neither team committed any turnovers in the second half. Individually, Chambers ended the day completing 15 of 26 passes (.577) for 196 yards, 1 TD pass and 1 interception.
Valladay led Wyoming in rushing, carrying the ball 19 times for 77 yards and 1 TD run. Chambers added 51 yards rushing. Chambers spread the ball around, connecting with eight different receivers for his 15 completions. The Pokes top pass catcher was wide receiver Ayden Eberhardt, who caught a team high four passes for 71 yards.
Montana State’s individual totals saw quarterback Matt McKay complete 19 of 28 passes (.679) for 200 yards and two TD passes. MSU running back Isaiah Ifanse led both teams in rushing, with 16 carries for 103 yards.
The Bobcats top receiver was wideout Lance McCutcheon, who caught five passes for 71 yards and 1 touchdown. Outstanding middle linebackers Chad Muma for Wyoming and Troy Andersen for Montana State didn’t disappoint. Each ended the game with 11 tackles for the teams. Muma added one fumble recovery, one blocked field goal, a huge sack and 2.0 tackles for loss.
Anderson had a pass breakup to go with his 11 tackles. On special teams, Wyoming’s Hoyland continued his outstanding play from a year ago, converting both of his field-goal attempts on the day from 37 and 25 yards out to improve his career field-goal statistics to 15 of 16 field goals made (93.8%).
Cowboy redshirt freshman punter Ralph Fawaz had an amazing career debut, punting six times for a 45.7 yard average while placing five of his six punts inside the MSU 20-yard line and hitting a long punt of 54 yards on two different occasions.
Cowboy quarterback Chambers was asked after the game what it was like to see his former Wyoming offensive coordinator and quarterbacks’ coach Brent Vigen on the other sideline as head coach of the Bobcats.
“We met at midfield before the game, but I think we did a good job of keeping it professional,” said Chambers. “He was over there leading his team, and I was out on the field trying to lead our team. “It was emotional today. It was good to show what we can do. The bar has been set, and we just have to keep getting better.”
Muma was very pleased with the performance of his defense and he attributed it to preparation and communication.
“I think it was the preparation our coaches gave us,” said Muma. “I think that helped us play fast today. The defense as a whole, we were communicating very well. “How we played together as a defense I think was the most impressive thing. I was happy seeing everyone making tackles and playing together. “It’s awesome. We go through these situations every week, so it’s awesome to see the practice we’re going through is paying off.”
And regarding the gold jerseys that the Cowboys unveiled on Saturday, Muma commented, “Never! Never in my life did I think we would wear anything other than brown or white jerseys with Coach Bohl here.”
Since taking over as head coach of the Cowboys in 2014, Bohl returned the Cowboys to their traditional brown jerseys and gold pants for home games and white jerseys and gold pants for road games. On Saturday against Montana State, the Cowboys wore new gold jerseys and white pants.
Senior wide receiver Eberhardt said he felt the Cowboys were confident going into the game and were confident when they began the game-winning scoring drive. He also gave a lot of credit to the 27,007 fans who showed up for the season opener on Saturday.
“We were confident, and we had replicated that (two-minute) scenario so many times in practice,” said Eberhardt. It was awesome to see everybody on the same page and to see it end the way it did. “I thought that everyone started to see that Sean (Chambers) can do everything well. He can throw it. He can run it, and he is a great leader. “At the end of the day, whether it’s pretty or not we needed to get to 1-0 and we were able to do that. “It was unbelievable today. I’ve been here for a long time and man did the fans fill up the seats today. The fans are everything for this team. A shout out to our fans. We could definitely hear them today. They provided us the extra energy we needed to come back and win this game.”