LARAMIE, WYO. – Saturday’s season opener for the Wyoming Cowboys was an emotional one. On the third play of the game, Wyoming starting quarterback and team captain Sean Chambers suffered an ankle injury that required him to be carted off the field. But after suffering that dramatic loss of their QB, the Cowboys showed incredible heart as they fought back from a 22-point deficit (28-6) with 3:47 remaining in the third quarter to force overtime before falling 37-34 in the first overtime to the Wolf Pack.

The Cowboy defense kept Wyoming in the game in the first half, forcing two Nevada turnovers and making a dramatic goal-line stand. At halftime, UW trailed by only eight points at 14-6. Nevada would come out in the third quarter and score touchdowns on back-to-back drives to take their largest lead at 28-6 late in the third. But from that point forward the Pokes took charge and fought back to tie the game 28-28 at the 8:30 mark of the fourth quarter. Nevada retook the lead at 31-28 with 3:26 remaining in the game, but the Cowboys would drive 74 yards in 11 plays on their final drive of the fourth quarter and true freshman place-kicker John Hoyland would make a 42-yard field goal with 23 seconds remaining in regulation to tie the game at 31-31 and force overtime.

In the first overtime, Wyoming could not convert a first down and Hoyland would come in to kick a 38-yard field goal, his fourth of the game, to give Wyoming its first lead of the game at 34-31. But Nevada quarterback Carson Strong would find wide receiver Romeo Doubs on a nine-yard touchdown pass to win the game 37-31.

After the game, Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl had this to say about the hard-fought game, including commenting about the difficult week faced by Nevada head coach Jay Norvell, whose father Merritt Norvell passed away earlier this week. “First of all I want to give credit to Nevada,” said Bohl. “I know Coach (Jay) Norvell has gone through a lot this week. I knew his father. I’m sure his team rallied around Coach Norvell. I thought they (Nevada) played well.

“We got off to a slow start and there are certainly things we need to work on in all three phases of the game. The desire is there but the execution needs to improve. We have a lot to play for this year, and we play a good Hawai’i team in Laramie this next week.

“Football is a game of momentum. Our guys believed. They didn’t panic. They played with poise, and the momentum started to swing our way. I can’t say enough about our freshman kicker (John Hoyland). I thought he was unbelievable. There are a lot of good things, but there are things we have to work on.”

The dramatic opening of the game with the loss of QB Chambers saw Wyoming unable to gain a first down on that opening series and on the ensuing punt, Nevada looked like they would return a punt for a touchdown, but the Wolf Pack were called for offside giving Wyoming a first down. Redshirt freshman quarterback Levi Williams entered the game for Wyoming, but the Poke were again forced to punt.

After a 34-yard punt by Wyoming graduate transfer Nick Null, Nevada took over at its own 22-yard line. The Wolf Pack proceeded to drive 78 yards in 10 plays, scoring on a 26-yard pass from quarterback Carson Strong to wide receiver Tory Horton. The extra point was successful by place-kicker Brandon Talton and Nevada had a 7-0 lead with 6:25 remaining in the first quarter. Strong was a perfect 7-for-7 passing on the opening drive for 68 yards.

The Cowboys were forced to a three-and-out on their next possession when Williams was unable to connect with wide receiver Dontae Crow on a third and three pass play from the Wyoming 32-yard line. Null punted for the second time, this one a 43-yard punt back to the Nevada 25-yard line.

The Wyoming defense stepped up big on the Wolf Pack’s second drive forcing their first turnover of the season. Junior linebacker Chad Muma forced the fumble and sophomore linebacker Charles Hicks recovered the fumble at the Nevada 26-yard line. After gaining a first down on the first play on a 10-yard run by junior running back Xazavian Valladay, Wyoming’s drive stalled at the Nevada 10-yard line. True freshman Hoyland came on to make his first career field goal from 27 yards to narrow the score to 7-3 with 2:38 remaining in the first quarter.

Wyoming’s defense came up big again, forcing the Wolf Pack into a three-and-out on Nevada’s next possession. The Cowboy offense took over after the punt at its own 30-yard line. On first down, Williams dropped back and threw deep down field connecting with redshirt freshman wide receive Neyor for 45 yards. Neyor went up and made a great catch on the play, recording the first catch of his career. That took the ball down to the Nevada 25-yard line. Williams would hit running back Trey Smith on a six-yard pass on second and 10, but the Pokes couldn’t gain a first down on a third-and-four and on the first play of the second quarter Hoyland came in to kick his second field goal of the game — this one from 36 yards — to cut the Nevada lead to one point at 7-6. Wyoming’s drive went 61 yards in five plays.

The first quarter ended with the two teams having very similar statistical totals. Wyoming ran 17 plays for 88 yards, and Nevada ran 16 plays for 92 yards. Both teams gained the majority of their yardage through the air — 64 for Wyoming and 80 for Nevada.

On their first possession of the second quarter, the Wolf Pack drove the ball from their own nine-yard line 53 yards in nine plays down to the Wyoming 29-yard line, but the Cowboy defense came up with another huge play when true freshman defensive end Cameron Smith sacked Nevada QB Strong for a loss of six yards and knocked the ball loose. Redshirt freshman defensive tackle Jordan Bertagnole recovered the fumble thwarting another Wolf Pack drive.

UW’s offense wasn’t able to gain a first down on its following drive and Null punted the ball 44 yards down to the Nevada 15.

Wolf Pack quarterback Strong led Nevada down to the Wyoming seven-yard line for a first and goal. He connected with wide receiver Justin Lockhart on what appeared to be a touchdown, but Nevada was called for a personal foul, taking the ball back to the Wyoming 24-yard line for a second and goal. Strong came back immediately with a 22-yard pass to tight end Cole Turner down to the Wyoming two-yard line. A face mask penalty on Wyoming moved the ball to the one-yard line. But the Cowboy defense would not give in, stopping the Wolf Pack on four consecutive plays from the one-yard line to take the ball back on downs. That stop by the Poke defense halted a 14-play, 84-yard drive by Nevada.

The Cowboys took over on their own one-yard line and were careful not to commit a turnover. Null, punting from his end zone, came up with another big punt for 44 yards out to the 50-yard line. with 1:54 remaining in the first half.

Nevada’s offense struck quickly on the following drive as Strong threw a 50-yard touchdown pass to tight end Turner on the first play from scrimmage to give Nevada its second TD of the day and extend its lead to 14-6 with 1:46 remaining in the first half.

The Pokes got a 17-yard kick return by senior wide receiver Dontae Crow to start their drive at the Wyoming 28-yard line. UW gained a first down on an 11-yard run by Valladay, but were not able to generate any more offense and the half ended with the Wolf Pack holding a 14-6 lead.

The halftime stats had Nevada running 40 plays for 293 yards, including 253 passing yards and 40 rushing. Wyoming ran 28 offensive plays for 106 yards of total offense — 64 passing yards and 42 rushing, But it was the Cowboy defense that shined in the first half, forcing two Nevada turnovers and making a goal-line stand to keep the Pokes in the game, trailing by only eight points.

The third quarter saw the Wolf Pack generate a nine-play, 94-yard drive on its first possession that included 8-of-8 passing by Strong on their first drive of the third quarter. The only running play was an 18-yard touchdown run by Avery Morrow on the final play of the drive to extend the Wolf Pack’s lead to 21-6. Wyoming was held to a three-and-out. Nevada followed that with a 10-play, 66-yard drive, culminating in a 10-yard TD pass from Strong to tight end Turner — their second TD connection of the game — to take a 28-6 lead. It would be the last points Nevada would score until late in the fourth quarter.

Wyoming’s offense responded at a critical moment of the game. After Nevada’s kickoff went out of bounds, UW took over at its own 35-yard line. Cowboy QB Williams threw a beautiful 35-yard pass to Neyor on first down, taking the ball down to the Nevada 31-yard line. After a false start penalty on the Cowboys, Williams attempted a pass to senior wide receiver Ayden Eberhardt, who was hit high on the play and a targeting penalty was assessed against Nevada safety Tyson Williams, which disqualified Williams from the game. That personal foul targeting penalty moved the ball to the Nevada 21-yard line. On Wyoming’s third play of the drive, Williams carried the ball himself for 21 yards and Wyoming’s first touchdown of the season to pull the Pokes to within two scores at 28-13. The UW drive covered 65 yards in three plays.

The Cowboy defense forced Nevada into a three-and-out on its next possession. Wyoming’s ensuing possession carried into the start of the fourth quarter, and on the first play of the final quarter UW was faced with a fourth and two from the Wyoming 43-yard line. Williams kept the ball and rushed for 10 yards to keep the drive alive. Williams then threw a completion for 24 yards to sophomore tight end Treyton Welch. Two plays later, Williams would find junior wide receiver Gunner Gentry in the end zone for a 22-yard TD pass. Hoyland added the extra point, and Wyoming cut the lead to 28-20 with 13:13 remaining in the game. Williams was 3 for 4 passing for 51 yards and he rushed for 10 yards to account for 61 of the 65 yards on the drive.

For a second straight possession, the Wyoming defense would again force Nevada into a three-and-out, and after a short 35-yard punt UW took over at its own 41-yard line. With all the momentum behind the Cowboys, they took the ball and drove down the field for their third consecutive touchdown. Valladay would carry three times for 20 yards. Williams would carry twice for 16 yards and he would complete his only pass attempt of the drive a 23-yard pass to Neyor. Williams second rush would go for eight yards and a TD. Suddenly UW was down only two points at 26-28. The Pokes of course went for the two-point conversion and Williams faked a run and then executed a perfect jump pass to tie the game at 28-28. The Cowboys had scored 22 unanswered points against the Wolf Pack.

For the third consecutive Nevada possession, Wyoming’s defense forced a three-and-out. But Nevada punter Julian Diaz uncorked a punt that bounced past UW punt returner Crow for a 76-yard punt that rolled down to the Wyoming 10-yard line. After rushes of a minus three yards and two yards by Valladay, UW’s Williams rolled out of the pocket on a third down and 11 but his pass would be intercepted by safety Berdale Robins at the Wyoming nine-yard line. It looked like the Wolf Pack were in prime position to score a touchdown, but the Cowboy defense once again would not allow Nevada a first down and forced Nevada into a 21-yard field goal by Talton to give Nevada a 31-28 lead with 3:26 remaining.

The Cowboys weren’t able to generate a first down on their following drive and had to punt the ball back to Nevada with only 1:54 remaining. Null again unloaded a strong 40-yard punt down to the Wolf Pack 24-yard line. Wyoming’s defense knew it had to come up with another big stop to give the Cowboys a chance, and the defense did just that holding Nevada to only four yards and giving the Cowboy offense the ball back with 1:30 left in the game. But the offense faced an incredible challenge as Nevada punter Diaz hit another huge punt, this one for 71 yards down to the Wyoming one-yard line.

Undaunted by the field position, the Wyoming offense led by Williams and Valladay would make one last attempt in regulation. Valladay would give the Pokes some breathing room with a 14-yard run on first down. Williams would complete four big passes on the drive — one for 15 yards to Eberhardt, one for seven yards and one for 11 yards both to Valladay and one of 12 yards to junior tight end Nate Weinman. Facing a fourth and 10 at the Nevada 25-yard line, Hoyland would be sent out for his third field-goal attempt of the game. This one from 42 yards. Nevada would call two timeouts prior to Hoyland’s kick, but it didn’t phase the freshman as he once again made the kick — this time to tie the game and force overtime.

Hawai’i won the toss in overtime and elected to go on defense. Wyoming was only able to gain four yards on its overtime possession. Hoyland came in with an opportunity to give the Cowboys their first lead of the game, and he did with a 38-yard field goal to put the Pokes up 34-31. It was now up to the Cowboy defense to come up with one more big stop. But Wolf Pack QB Strong would complete a pass of six yards to
wide receiver Justin Lockart on first down followed by two five-yard runs by running back Devonte Lee. On a second and five from the Wyoming nine-yard line, Strong would find wide receiver Doubs in the end zone, ending the game with the final score Nevada 37, Wyoming 34.

It was a fitting battle between two teams who were picked to finish second in their respective Mountain West Divisions this past summer by MW media members.

Next up for the Cowboys is their home opener next Friday, Oct. 30 when they will host the Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors in a game scheduled to kick off at 7:45 p.m., Mountain Time from Wyoming’s War Memorial Stadium.