The Wyoming Cowboys' rallied late, scoring their only touchdown of the day to narrow Fresno State's lead to 13-7 with 2:25 remaining in the game. Wyoming then followed that scoring drive with a final drive of the game that saw the Cowboys take the ball all the way down to the Fresno State 27-yard line. But on the final play of the game, Cowboy quarterback Nick Smith
was unable to escape the Fresno State pressure and was tackled before he could get a pass off as time expired. Fresno State held on for the 13-7 victory to capture a road win in Wyoming's War Memorial Stadium.
The loss ended Wyoming's hopes of advancing to a second straight Mountain West Conference Championship Game, and secured Fresno State's berth in the 2017 MW Championship Game versus Boise State on Dec. 2. The Cowboys are now 7-4 on the season and 5-2 in the Mountain West. Fresno State improved to 8-3, 6-1 in conference play.
The Wyoming defense kept the Cowboys in the game by limiting the Bulldogs to one touchdown and two field goals prior to the Pokes taking possession at their own 20-yard line with 4:17 remaining in the contest. Smith, who started the game at quarterback for the injured Josh Allen
, completed 6 of 7 passes on Wyoming's touchdown drive, taking the Cowboys 80 yards in seven plays to pull UW to within six points at 13-7 with 2:25 left in the fourth quarter. Smith began the drive with a nine-yard completion to wide receiver James Price
. He followed that with completions of 14 yards to tight end Austin Fort
, 12 yards to wide receiver C.J. Johnson
and nine yards to wide receiver Austin Conway
that put the ball at the Fresno State 36-yard line. On the next play, Smith connected again with Conway, who made a spin move down the sideline for 30 yards to the Bulldog six-yard line. Smith concluded the drive with a six-yard swing pass to running back Nico Evans
, who made a Bulldog miss to get into the end zone.
Wyoming attempted an on-side kick that went out of bounds, giving Fresno State the ball at the Wyoming 42-yard line with 2:25 remaining. The Cowboys had only one timeout remaining and couldn't allow the Bulldogs a first down if they had any hopes of winning the game. The Pokes' defense would rise to the occasion again, allowing runs of only two yards on first down, two yards on second down and no gain on third down. UW called its final timeout with 56 second left. Fresno State would punt into the end zone, forcing the Cowboys to drive 80 yards if they wanted to pull out the win.
Smith would immediately find Conway again -- this time for 41 yards down the Cowboys' sideline to the Fresno State 39-yard line. After two incomplete passes, Smith connected on a four-yard pass to Evans followed by an eight-yard pass to Johnson, moving the ball to the FS 27. Smith spiked the ball after that play, and attempted two more passes that fell incomplete. With only one play remaining, Smith was forced out of the pocket to his right and as he attempted to escape the rush and find a receiver, Bulldog defensive end Robert Stanley tackled Smith from behind as time expired.
"You had two of the top scoring defenses in our league and those numbers bared out today," said Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl
. "Our recipe for success is to do well with the turnover margin and that wasn't in our favor today. For us to win, that was going to be an important factor.
"We had a shot to win at the end, somewhat unconventional, but none the less there was a chance. I applaud our players, but I also want to congratulate Fresno State. They've got a good football team. They play hard, smart and clean. Coach (Jeff) Tedford has a good team, but I believe we've got one too. I told our team, we win as team and lose as a team. We will support one another and hold our heads up high and get ready for the next week."
The Cowboys entered the game ranked No. 1 in the MW and No. 14 in the nation in scoring defense, allowing opponents only 18.1 points per game. Fresno State was ranked No. 2 in the conference and No. 15 in the country, giving up only 18.3 points per game.
Wyoming lost the turnover battle for only the third time this season, losing two fumbles in the first half, while taking the ball away from Fresno State only once on a fumble recovery early in the fourth quarter. Wyoming entered the game No. 1 in the nation in turnover margin at a +17. UW also was tied for No. 1 in the country for the most takeaways, with 27.
The Cowboy's first lost fumble was on a muffed punt by Conway that the Bulldogs recovered at the UW 21-yard line. That led to Fresno State's first touchdown on the very next play when Bulldog quarterback Marcus McMaryion hit running back Ronnie Rivers on a 21-yard touchdown pass to stretch FS's lead to 10-0 with 11:12 to go in the second quarter.
The first quarter saw the Bulldogs score the only points of the quarter on a 27-yard Jimmy Camacho field goal that capped off a 10-play, 58-yard drive.
In the second quarter, it appeared the Cowboys had generated a turnover when strong safety Andrew Wingard
stripped the ball loose from Bulldog running back Rivers at the Fresno State 36. The fumble was originally ruled as a fumble recovery by Cowboy cornerback Tyler Hall
. But after the play was reviewed, it was determined that Hall's foot was touching out of bounds, so the result was a complete pass, a fumble out of bounds and Fresno State retaining the ball. The Pokes did force Fresno State into a punt on that series, but that led to Conway's muffed punt that was recovered by Fresno State linebacker George Helmuth at the Wyoming 21-yard line.
Wyoming would mount a late scoring threat in the second quarter, as they drove 65 yards in seven plays down to the Fresno State 14-yard line. Smith connected with fullback Drew Van Maanen
on a 15-yard pass on the final play of the drive, but Bulldog cornerback Jaron Bryant put his helmet right on the ball knocking it loose. That Cowboy fumble was caught in the air by Fresno State linebacker Jeffrey Allison at the 14 and returned three yards to the 17-yard line. Fresno State took over with 56 seconds remaining in the half and ran out the clock. The halftime score was 10-0 in favor of Fresno State.
The second half would begin with Fresno State's defense forcing the Cowboy offense into two successive three-and-outs. Wyoming's defense would also force the Bulldogs into a three-and-out on its first series of the second half. On the Bulldogs' second possession, they would be forced to begin their drive at their own six-yard line after a 58-yard punt by Cowboy Tim Zaleski
. The Bulldogs proceeded to put together their longest drive of the day -- a 13-play, 83-yard drive that took 6:29 off the clock. But the Cowboys were able to hold Fresno State out of the end zone with nose tackle Sidney Malauulu
sacking FS quarterback McMaryion for six yards on a third down and goal from the five-yard line. That forced a 29-yard field goal by Fresno State's Camacho, making the score 13-0 Fresno State with 3:46 left in the third quarter. That is how the third quarter would end.
The only other scoring threat that Fresno State would mount came on its final possession of the third quarter that carried into the fourth quarter. The Bulldogs drove 70 yards in nine plays down to the Wyoming 22-yard line. It was then that UW cornerback Tyler Hall
would rip the ball out of the hands of Fresno State wide receiver KeeSean Johnson after a pass completion and Cowboy linebacker Cassh Maluia
would recover at the Wyoming 18-yard line to stop that scoring threat.
The final team stats also were an indication of how closely matched the two teams were. Fresno State ended the game with 333 yards of total offense on 68 plays. Wyoming had 308 yards of total offense on 61 plays. The Bulldogs averaged 4.9 yards per play, and the Cowboys averaged 5.0 yards.
Individually, Wyoming's Smith completed 20 of 32 passes (62.5 percent) for 231 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. Fresno State's McMaryion completed 14 of 23 passes (60.9 percent) for 186 yards, one TD and no interceptions. Wyoming's Conway led all receivers with seven catches for 105 yards. FS's Josh Hokit led all rushers with 21 carries for 69 yards.
Wyoming defenders Andrew Wingard
and Logan Wilson
both reached milestones on Saturday. Wingard recorded 12 tackles in the game, to improve his career total to 354. He moved into sixth place on the Wyoming career tackle list, passing three Cowboy greats on Saturday. A junior, Wingard moved ahead of Ward Dobbs (343 career tackles from 2005-08), former teammate Lucas Wacha (344 tackles from 2013-16) and Ken Fantetti (352 tackles from 1975-78). Wingard also reached the 100-tackle plateau for his third consecutive season. He now has 101 tackles this season. Wilson had eight tackles on Saturday to record the first 100-tackle season of his career. He now has 105 tackles for his sophomore season.
The Cowboys will play their final regular-season game next Saturday at San Jose State. Kickoff next Saturday is set for 3:00 p.m., M.T. (2:00 p.m., P.T.) from Citizens Equity First Credit Union (CEFCU) Stadium - Home of the Spartans. That game will be televised on ESPN3.