True-fresh­man QB leads Pokes to Bowl Eli­gi­bil­i­ty

 

On a cold, snowy Sat­ur­day after­noon the Wyoming Cow­boys 6–3 (3−1 MWC) faced off against the New Mex­i­co Lobos 1–9 (1−4 MWC). It was the Pokes final home game and the team’s seniors were hon­ored for their ded­i­ca­tion pri­or to the game. In their final game at War Memo­r­i­al sta­di­um the Cow­boys con­trolled their own des­tiny. With a win Wyoming would make itself bowl eli­gi­ble for the sec­ond time in three years under coach Dave Chris­tensen.

The fans came out to sup­port the Cow­boys in hopes of help­ing them clinch a bowl birth. There weren’t a record num­ber of fans, but they made their pres­ence felt. To begin the game the Cow­boys elect­ed to receive and start­ed the game off on offense. The Pokes drove the dis­tance of the field and went for a touch­down on fourth down inside the five yard line. The Lobos’ defense was still fresh and they were able to thwart the Cowboy’s effort to get a turnover on downs. The Lobos got the ball on their own three yard line and did all they could to try and pow­er the ball out of their own end­zone. The Lobos punt­ed to Wyoming and the Pokes start­ed their dri­ve already in New Mex­i­co ter­ri­to­ry. The Cow­boys took less than a minute to get their first score with a screen pass dumped to Bran­don Miller for 26 yards. At the end of the first quar­ter the score was Wyoming 7 – Lobos 0.

In the sec­ond quar­ter New Mex­i­co did what Wyoming had done in the first. They worked the clock with a few method­i­cal dri­ves. In their first pos­ses­sion the Lobos got a field goal after being stopped inside the red­zone. Wyoming got the ball and began to dri­ve, but the ball was fum­bled by Alvester Alexan­der on the 12 yard line. Teams exchanged a cou­ple of pos­ses­sions before Wyoming had a missed field goal. When New Mex­i­co got the ball, they made the Pokes pay for their turnover by run­ning down the clock and tack­ing on sev­en points. The score put the Lobos in the lead for the first time, 10–7. With only 1:41 left on the game clock the Pokes start­ed a stel­lar two-minute drill. The Cow­boys got their lead back with only 25 sec­onds left by way of an Alexan­der rush­ing touch­down. The half end­ed with a score of 14–10 in favor of the Cow­boys, but the Lobos would get the ball to start the sec­ond half.

Wyoming was sta­tis­ti­cal­ly led in the first half by Alexan­der, Brett Smith, and Tashaun Gip­son. Alexan­der did his job on the ground with 10 rush­es for 44 yards and a touch­down. Smith was doing it all with 146 pass­ing yards and a touch­down, going 13-for-18 thru the air. Smith also con­tributed 25 yards on a hand­ful of car­ries. Gip­son led the defense with six tack­les.

New Mex­i­co was led by Cru­soe Gong­bay, B.R. Hol­brook, and Car­men Messi­na. Gong­bay got yards on the ground and thru the air, accu­mu­lat­ing 31 yards rush­ing and 29 yards receiv­ing. Hol­brook went 7-for-11 with 67 pass­ing yards and a rush­ing touch­down. Messi­na was the defen­sive stand­out with five tack­les in the first half.

Only a few sec­onds into the first dri­ve of the sec­ond half, the Cow­boys got the ball back cour­tesy of a Gip­son inter­cep­tion. The Pokes got the ball in good field posi­tion but were forced into a three-and-out. New Mex­i­co got stopped on their dri­ve and were forced to punt it back to Wyoming. The Pokes had a quick dri­ve that stalled in the red­zone, lead­ing to a field goal. After a few stuffed dri­ves that ate up almost sev­en min­utes off the clock, the third quar­ter ends with the score Wyoming 17 – New Mex­i­co 10.

Wyoming opened up the fourth quar­ter deep in Lobo ter­ri­to­ry. It didn’t take long for quar­ter­back Brett Smith to bob-and-weave his way into the end­zone for a rush­ing touch­down, ele­vat­ing the score to 24–10 in favor of the Pokes. Both teams exchanged punts and ate up much of the fourth quar­ter clock. With less than sev­en min­utes left in the game, Smith scram­bled out of the pock­et to find a wide open lane all the way to the end­zone. Smith punched it into the end­zone with a 69 yard rush. That score put the Cow­boys way up, 31–10. The Lobos attempt­ed to save some face with a late game score, but were unable to pen­e­trate the Cow­boys red­zone defense. The Lobos turned the ball over on a fum­ble by the quar­ter­back and Wyoming took a knee to end the game.

Lead­ing the way in the sec­ond half for the Pokes were Smith, Gip­son, and Mazi Ogban­na. Ogban­na chipped in with six recep­tions for 78 yards. Gip­son con­tributed 10 tack­les and an inter­cep­tion. Smith did what he almost always does. He took over the game. Smith put on a show with his long touch­down run, which turned out to be the nail-in-the-cof­fin. Smith had a total of 147 yards rush­ing on 12 attempts. He also went 23-for-38 for 212 yards and a touch­down thru the air.

Gip­son talked to reporters post-game and stat­ed, “In my wildest dreams I couldn’t have pic­tured a bet­ter end­ing to my play­ing career here in War Memo­r­i­al Sta­di­um.”

Coach Chris­tensen had some kind words for his quar­ter­back. “He just amazes me every time he plays. He’s such a hum­ble young man and great com­peti­tor. I can’t wait to get him on a timer (for the 40-yard dash). He out­ran their sec­ondary,” stat­ed Chris­tensen.

Even New Mex­i­co Inter­im Head Coach George Bar­low was impressed with Smith’s play. He stat­ed, “Brett Smith is doing a great job this year for a fresh­man in their sys­tem. When they ask him to throw the ball he tries to pro­tect it as much as he can and if it’s not there he will do a good job of run­ning with it. He also does an excel­lent job run­ning when they have plays designed for him to run. He is play­ing excel­lent (for them).”

New Mex­i­co was led by Gong­bay, Hol­brook, and Messi­na. Gong­bay fin­ished with 52 yards on 10 rush­ing attempts. Hol­brook end­ed with 53 rush­ing yards and a touch­down on 12 car­ries. He also went 18-for-28 for 162 yards and a touch­down thru the air. Messi­na had 11 tack­les with two of them being for a loss.

With their stel­lar per­for­mance on senior day, the Pokes increased their record to 7–3 (4−1 MWC). The Lobos record goes to 1–10 (1−5 MWC) and they fall to the bot­tom of the Moun­tain West Con­fer­ence. The Pokes vault­ed them­selves into a bowl birth in Smith’s true-fresh­man sea­son with a few more weeks left in the sea­son. Next week the Pokes head up to the Smurf-turf. They will take on an extreme­ly tal­ent­ed team in Boise State 8–1 (3−1 MWC). Boise State’s only loss came to a tough TCU team after a missed field goal to end the game. In the final game of the sea­son, the Cow­boys will head down to Fort Collins for the Bor­der War and the Bronze Boot.

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