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.