Get­ting back on their feet

On a glo­ri­ous fall after­noon the Wyoming Cow­boys 3–2 (0−0 MWC) took on the UNLV Run­ning Rebels 1–4 (0−0 MWC) for their home­com­ing game. This marked the open­ing of Moun­tain West Con­fer­ence play for both teams. The Cow­boys were hop­ing to regain past momen­tum that had been crushed in the blowout fac­ing Utah State 2–3 (0−0 WAC) last week. The Rebels were hop­ing to cre­ate some momen­tum of their own as they move toward the sec­ond half of the sea­son.

The Pokes received the ball to start the game on offense. Their offense was hop­ing to do some dam­age after last weeks’ thump­ing in Utah. The Pokes offense found lit­tle resis­tance in their first dri­ve and in the first quar­ter. Wyoming came out of the gates with a five play dri­ve that took them 80 yards in only 1:28. The dri­ve was capped by 41-yard pass to Dominic Ruf­fran for the first score of the game. The point-after attempt was schtoinked off the right upright, only giv­ing the Cow­boys a 6–0 lead. UNLV’s first pos­ses­sion went poor­ly, result­ing in an inter­cep­tion by free safe­ty Luke Ander­son. The Pokes quick­ly took the reins and rode the back of run­ning back Alvester Alexan­der for a goal-line rush for a touch­down. The score put the Cow­boys on top of the Rebels 13–0. After a few three-and-outs, the Pokes got anoth­er chance to score before the end of the first quar­ter. They put anoth­er touch­down on the board with a 15-yard pass to wide receiv­er Spencer Bruce. The score stood at 20–0.

The sec­ond quar­ter didn’t start much bet­ter for the Rebels, but it took a u-turn in a hur­ry. After UNLV was pres­sured to punt, they recov­ered the ball after a muffed punt on Wyoming’s part. The turnover gave UNLV great field posi­tion and they need­ed to put some points on the board if they were going to climb back into the game. Once they were close to the end­zone they picked up some points with a rush­ing touch­down by Tim Cor­nett. Wyoming did lit­tle, if any­thing, on their next dri­ve and punt­ed the ball back to UNLV. The Rebels moved eas­i­ly down the field to get right back into the game. They earned a sec­ond touch­down for Cor­nett and notched the score at 20–14. The Rebels found them­selves well with­in strik­ing dif­fer­ence as the half con­clud­ed at 20–14 in favor of the Pokes.

At half­time, the Cow­boys were on top by a nar­row mar­gin. They were led sta­tis­ti­cal­ly by Brett Smith, Alexan­der, and Gabe Knap­ton. Smith had a sol­id first half going 6-for-12 for 83 yards and two touch­downs thru the air. Smith also tacked on 65 yards rush­ing on eight car­ries. Alexan­der led the ground attack with 30 yards on five car­ries along with a touch­down. Knap­ton did his part on defense and had sev­en tack­les to lead the team.

The Rebels were led by Dionz Brad­ford, Phillip Payne, and James Dun­lap. Brad­ford had 15 car­ries for 89 yards. Payne had a sin­gle recep­tion for 32 yards. Dun­lap led his defense with four tack­les and a sack.

The sec­ond half was far less excit­ing than the first half had end­ed up being. UNLV got the ball to begin the sec­ond half, but were unable to dri­ve and were forced to punt. UW got the ball and put togeth­er a sol­id dri­ve for 55 yards in 12 plays. That dri­ve end­ed with a 24-yard field goal by Daniel Sul­li­van, putting the Cow­boys at 23–14. The defense held strong once again and the Rebels were forced into anoth­er three-and-out and a punt. On the ensu­ing return, Chris McNeill went 76 yards while avoid­ing many would-be tack­lers. He also got a mon­ster block against the final defend­er and made his touch­down return look sim­ple, putting the Cow­boys even fur­ther in front of the Rebels 30–14.

McNeill com­ment­ed on the crunch­ing block that led to the end­zone, “I didn’t actu­al­ly see DeAn­dre Jones, block, but I def­i­nite­ly heard it… Every­body did their job on Spe­cial Forces today. Any­time we can get a full-team effort like that, it def­i­nite­ly does won­ders for the team.”

Head Coach Bob­by Hauck of the Rebels com­ment­ed on the punt return, “That was a big play. We came into this game, I think, lead­ing the Moun­tain West in punt­ing and not giv­ing up plays like that. There were a lot of big plays in this game.”

Wyoming had a lit­tle bit more raz­zle-daz­zle tucked up their sleeves and put it to good use in the final quar­ter. Only three min­utes after the return for a touch­down, the Pokes put anoth­er touch­down on the board with some trick­er­a­tion. Inside the Rebel 30, the Cow­boys put the Stat­ue of Lib­er­ty into use with a pass to quar­ter­back Brett Smith from McNeill. No one picked up Smith and he made an uncon­test­ed recep­tion and turned it into points on the board. The Cow­boys were up 36–14 and decid­ed to fake the point-after and got their two point con­ver­sion to make it 38–14. Lit­tle life was left in the Run­ning Rebels and they gave up anoth­er field goal to put the final score at 41–14.

The sec­ond half seemed even more lop­sided than the first. Lead­ing the Cow­boys for the game were Smith, Alexan­der, and McNeill. Smith fin­ished with a respectable 96 yards on 10-of-19 thru the air with his two touch­down pass­es and his touch­down recep­tion. Alexan­der fin­ished with 74 yards on 14 car­ries and a touch­down. The man-of-the-hour, how­ev­er, was the speed­ster McNeill. McNeill had a bril­liant punt return for a score as well as throw­ing a touch­down pass to Smith. Three Cow­boys tied with 10 tack­les a-piece.

Lead­ing UNLV sta­tis­ti­cal­ly was Cor­nett and Brad­ford. Cor­nett had the only two scores on the day but Brad­ford did much of the dirty work, get­ting 104 yards on 22 car­ries.

Next week the Cow­boys 4–2 (1−0 MWC) head to San Diego to take on the Aztecs 4–2 (1−1 MWC). The game will be a good barom­e­ter of Wyoming’s chances in con­fer­ence matchups for the rest of the sea­son. Hope­ful­ly, the Pokes will only build on their cur­rent momen­tum and find them­selves bowl eli­gi­ble by season’s end.