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By Tim Harkins, University of Wyoming
For the second straight week, the Wyoming Cowboys scored the winning touchdown of the game within the final two minutes of play and the Pokes improved their record to 2-0 on the season with a 50-43 road win at Northern Illinois.
The Cowboys set the tone early in the game as the offense scored back-to-back touchdowns on their first two possessions and then added two more TDs in the second quarter, while the Cowboy defense came up with two first-half interceptions to give Wyoming a 28-10 lead at halftime.
ADVERTISINGUW built its lead to 42-16 midway through the third quarter when linebacker Chad Muma intercepted a pass and turned it into a “Pick Six” of 23 yards with 6:03 remaining in the third.
But from that point forward, the momentum shifted in favor of Northern Illinois. The Huskies scored four unanswered touchdowns to take the lead at 43-42 with only 4:56 left in the game.
Determined to not let the game slip away, the Cowboy offense, with quarterback Sean Chambers at the helm, began its next drive with three straight running plays of 18 yards by Xazavian Valladay, eight yards by Titus Swen and four yards by Trey Smith.
Chambers would connect with Valladay on a 10-yard pass and Smith would add a one-yard run to take the ball down to the NIU 34-yard line. On second and nine from the 34, Chambers lofted a pass down the sideline and wide receiver Isaiah Neyor snatched it out of the air as he was falling out of bounds at the Huskies’ four-yard line.
The catch was originally ruled incomplete by the officials, but after a video replay the call was reversed and Wyoming had the ball at the four. Chambers attempted to find Neyor on a quick out pattern on first and goal, but the pass was incomplete.
Wyoming’s offense was then penalized five yards for an illegal substituion. On second and goal from the nine, a pass from Chambers to wide receiver Ayden Eberhardt fell incomplete. Facing a third and goal from the nine-yard line, Chambers ran a naked bootleg to his left and slipped into the front corner of the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown.
A successful two-point conversion by the Pokes followed when Chambers found Neyor in the end zone to give UW a 50-43 lead with 1:35 left to play. The winning drive took 12 plays over three minutes and 21 seconds and covered 75 yards, which was the exact number of yards the Pokes’ covered in their winning TD drive the previous week against Montana State.
Northern Illinois had one more opportunity to try and regain the lead. They started off in great field position after a 35-yard kickoff return gave them the ball at the NIU 42. But the Wyoming defense allowed NIU quarterback Rocky Lombardi to complete only 1 of 7 pass attempts for 12 yards on the Huskies’ final possession to preserve the 50-43 road win.
“We knew Northern Illinois was a good team coming into this game having beaten an ACC team (Georgia Tech) last week on the road,” said Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl. “I want to give credit to our offense again for putting together another outstanding two-minute drive at the end of the game.
“On defense, we accomplished what we wanted to today in terms of forcing turnovers, but we know we have some work to do on limiting big plays. Northern Illinois was able to break some big plays in the second half and we have to clean that up.
“With that said, it’s not easy to win games in college football, and I’m proud of the resilence our players showed to come away with this win.”
Wyoming wide receiver Neyor scored three touchdowns on the day with TD receptions of 33 and 19 yards in the first half and had a five-yard rushing touchdown on a jet sweep in the third quarter.
When asked about Neyor’s performance in Saturday’s victory, Bohl said, “Isaiah is a rare talent. He made a lot of big plays today and definitely provides us with a down-field threat. He made some tough catches in big situations today, and I think you’ll continue to see a lot more from him as the season goes on.”
The Cowboy defense came up with three interceptions in the game. Safety Miles Williams recorded the first interception of his career in the first quarter to stop a drive that had penetrated down to the Wyoming 32-yard line.
In the second quarter, safety Rome Weber was able to snatch a deflected pass out of the air for the second interception of his career and his first of the 2021 season. Weber’s interception came at the NIU 22-yard line and led to Valladay scoring on a seven-yard TD run two plays later. UW’s third interception was Muma’s “Pick Six” of 23 yards in the third quarter.
UW committed only one turnover of its own on the day when a lateral from Chambers to wide receiver Tyrese Grant was ruled a fumble in the fourth quarter. The Huskies recovered the fumble at the Wyoming 14-yard line and scored on the following play to make the score Wyoming 42, Northern Illinois 36.
For the day, Wyoming achieved the offensive balance it has been striving for. The Cowboys rushed for 191 yards and had 204 passing yards for 395 yards of total offense. Northern Illinois rushed for 244 yards and threw for 233 for 477 yards of total offense to outgain the Pokes.
But the ability of the Wyoming defense to force three turnovers in the end helped make the comeback win possible for the Cowboys. Williams’ interception stopped an NIU drive deep in Wyoming territory. Weber’s interception led to a Wyoming touchdown, and Muma’s “Pick Six” gave the UW defense a score of its own.
Chambers concluded the day completing 13 of 23 passes for 191 yards. He connected with six different receivers led by Neyor, who had four catches for 87 yards and two receiving touchdowns. Eberhardt also had four receptions for 49 yards, and Valladay caught two passes out of the backfield for 50 yards, including a long of 38 yards.
Valladay recorded the 11th 100-yard rushing game of his career and first of this season with 101 yards on 21 carries Saturday. He also scored one rushing touchdown.
Swen added 54 yards on nine carries and also had a rushing TD. Chambers added 16 yards rushing on eight carries, including his nine-yard scamper for the winning touchdown. Chambers led the Cowboys with 207 yards of total offense. Valladay ended the day with 151 yards of all-purpose yardage (rushing and receiving), and Neyor capped off his big day with 100 all-purpose yards (87 receiving and 13 rushing), two receiving TDs and one rushing touchdown.
Defensively, Muma and fellow linebacker Easton Gibbs led the Cowboys with 10 tackles each. Muma also added 1.0 tackle for loss to go with his 10 tackles and interception for a touchdown.
Gibbs had 0.5 tackles for loss and one pass breakup. Cornerback C.J. Coldon contributed nine tackles and two pass breakups, and safety Esaias Gandy added seven tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss. Wyoming’s 2.0 sacks on the day were made by nose tackle Cole Godbout and defensive end Victor Jones.
Northern Illinois’ outstanding freshman running back Harrison Waylee rushed for 179 yards on 26 carries and two TDs, including a 75-yard touchdown run. NIU quarterback Lombardi completed 19 of 36 passes for 233 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions.
The Huskies’ leading receiver was wide receiver Cole Tucker, who caught six passes for 72 yards. Linebacker Nick Rattin was credited with 11 tackles. Safety C.J. Brown contributed 10 tackles. Defensive tackle Devonte O’Malley recorded NIU’s 1.0 sack on the day.
Cowboy Helmets Honor the 20th Anniversary of 9/11
Wyoming wore special red, white and blue Bucking Horse and Rider decals on their helmets Saturday, along with a special 9/11 decal on the back of their helmets. Each helmet also had the words “Always Remember, Never Forget” on the back of each helmet.
Wyoming-Northern Illinois, What a Series
The Cowboys have only played Northern Illinois twice in history, but both games were wild affairs. Today’s game saw Wyoming build a 42-16 lead, only to see NIU come back to take the lead, 43-42, before Wyoming scored the winning TD with only 1:35 remaining in the game to win 50-43.
In 2016, the two teams played in a triple overtime game in Laramie, Wyo., that resulted in Wyoming winning 40-34 on a Josh Allen scramble for a touchdown. That game was delayed 1 hour and 43 minutes due to a lightning delay and finally ended at 2:34 a.m.
Versus the Mid-American Conference
With Wyoming’s win at Northern Illinois today, the Cowboys improved their all-time record versus Mid-American Conference schools to 9-4 and are now 2-0 against NIU.
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