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.