The Wyoming Cowboys fought back from a 13-point deficit in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 52-52 on the last play of regulation, sending their game versus UNLV into overtime on Saturday afternoon in Las Vegas. But after exchanging touchdowns with UNLV in the first two overtimes, the Rebels intercepted the Pokes in the third overtime and a 40-yard field goal by UNLV’s Nicolai Bornand resulted in a 69-66 win for the Rebels. It was the Cowboys first loss in Mountain West Conference play this season.
“It was a game that came down to a play here or there,” said Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl. There certainly were a lot of plays in the ball game; some really good and some not so good. I think it’s important that we move forward and hang together as a football team. And as coaches, there are a lot of things that we’ve got to clean up within a short week, but there were some good things that were out there.
“Certainly, UNLV competed and they won a heck of a football game.”
Wyoming’s fourth quarter comeback was highlighted by a nine-play, 97-yard drive in the final 1:06 of regulation. The Cowboys were pinned back at their own three-yard line to begin the game-tying drive following a 51-yard punt by Bornand. After an intentional grounding penalty on Cowboy quarterback Josh Allen moved the ball back to the one-yard line, Allen proceeded to complete passes of 14 yards to wide receiver C.J. Johnson, 24 yards to wideout Tanner Gentry and 27 yards to wide receiver Jake Maulhardt. On a second and 10 from the UNLV 34, Allen again attempted to connect with Maulhardt but interference was called against the Rebels and UW had a first and 10 at the UNLV 19-yard line. With only six seconds remaining, Allen threw for Gentry in the back of the end zone. Gentry was pushed out of bounds by a Rebel defender but was able to come back in bounds and establish position to catch the game-tying touchdown pass. After officials reviewed the play, the call was confirmed and the Cowboys had forced overtime.
UNLV won the coin flip to start overtime and chose to go on defense. Wyoming elected to attack the end zone nearest the large contingent of Wyoming fans in attendance. Running back Brian Hill began the series with a one-yard run to the UNLV 24. Allen then carried for nine yards and a first down at the Rebel 15. Hill would then take the ball into the end zone on the third play of the series to give the Pokes a 59-52 lead.
On UNLV’s first possession of overtime, the Cowboy defense held UNLV for no gain on first down and only three yards on second down. But on third and seven from the UW 22-yard line Rebel quarterback Kurt Palandech found wide receiver Jericho Flowers down the middle of the Wyoming defense for a 22-yard TD pass and the game was tied at 59 going into the second overtime.
The two teams moved to the opposite end of the field for the second overtime. This time UW defense’s took the field first. Palandech connected with receiver Devonte Boyd for 17 yards on first down. After runs of three yards and one yard, Palandech hit tight end Andrew Price on a four-yard pass to put the Rebels up 66-59.
Allen and his offense would respond quickly on their second-overtime possession with a pass completion to Maulhardt for six yards followed by a 19-yard TD pass to tight end Jacob Hollister, tying the game at 66-66.
In the third overtime, the ball went back to the Cowboy offense first. Hill rushed for two yards on first down, and then on second down Allen was forced to scramble to his left to avoid the pass rush and attempted to hit Maulhardt on a sideline pattern. Rebel cornerback Torry McTyer intercepted the pass and handed the ball back to his offensive unit.
The Cowboy defense stiffened, allowing only five yards on a first-down rush, no gain on second down and only two yards on third down. Facing a fourth down and three, Bornand came on the field for a 35-yard field goal attempt. Wyoming called a timeout before the kick. After the timeout, Bornand’s attempt sailed wide left, but there was a false start penalty on UNLV before the play got started. The officials marked off the five-yard penalty and Bornand was faced with a 40-yard attempt. The second time Bornand would successfully make the kick and the Rebels had captured a memorable 69-66 upset victory over the Cowboys.
Wyoming’s perfect conference record fell to 5-1 and the Pokes overall record went to 7-3. UNLV improved to 3-3 in the Mountain West and 4-6 overall.
Gentry had a career day receiving for the Cowboys with 184 yards on five catches and three touchdowns. In addition to his 19-yard TD catch on the final play of regulation to force overtime. Gentry made a spectacular reception at the end of the first half, catching a 48-yard pass one-handed with a defender hanging on him to pull the Cowboys to within three points at 24-27. The Rebels kicked a field goal with one second remaining in the first half to take a 30-24 lead into the locker room.
The third quarter would see UNLV extend its lead to 37-24 on an eight-play, 64-yard drive. Wyoming would cut the lead to 37-31 with an eight-play drive of its own for 74 yards, capped off by a 15-yard TD run from Hill.
In the fourth quarter, the Rebels drove 91 yards to again build their lead to 13 points at 44-31. It was then that the Cowboys began to exert themselves. UNLV was penalized on the kickoff, kicking the ball out of bounds and giving the Cowboys the ball at its own 35-yard line. Hill broke off a 20-yard run on first down, taking the ball into UNLV territory at the Rebel 45. Allen then connected with Gentry on his second TD of the day -- this one for 45 yards to pull the Pokes back within six at 44-38.
The Cowboy defense forced UNLV into a three-and-out on its next series. Bornand punted to Cowboy redshirt freshman Austin Conway, who weaved his way through the Rebel punt coverage team for 60 yards and a touchdown. Conway’s return gave the Cowboys a 45-44 lead -- its first lead since early in the second quarter. It was the first time since Oct. 15, 2011, that a Cowboy had returned a punt for a TD. That Cowboy was Chris McNeill, who returned a punt 76 yards for a touchdown, coming against UNLV, as well.
While it looked like that play may have re-energized the Cowboys, Palandech quickly grabbed the momentum back for UNLV as he broke through the Wyoming defense for a 76-yard TD run on the very next play from scrimmage and UNLV had regained the lead at 52-45.
After each team failed to score on the next four possessions of the game, it was then that Allen and his offense, along with the Cowboy coaching staff, did a masterful job of managing the clock to put together the 97-yard drive to tie the game on the last play of the fourth quarter.
While the Cowboys generated 485 yards of total offense, they gave up 653 total yards to UNLV, including 401 rushing yards. Forcing opponent turnovers, while limiting its own turnovers had been a strength for Wyoming all season, but turnovers hurt the Pokes on Saturday. UW turned the ball over four times on two lost fumbles and two interceptions. The Cowboys were able to force only one turnover by UNLV.
The one turnover the Pokes forced was a big one, however, as it resulted in Cowboy linebacker Logan Wilson recovering the fumble by Palandech in the Rebel end zone for a Wyoming touchdown. It was the fifth defensive touchdown scored by the Cowboy defense this season.
Senior linebacker Lucas Wacha was credited with a personal best 16 tackles on Saturday. Wacha now has 317 career tackles, and he moved into 10th place on the Wyoming career tackle list. Wacha passed former Cowboy greats Brian Hendricks (309 tackles from 2008-11) and Bruce Mowry (311 tackles from 1981-84).
Hill rushed for 119 yards and tied a personal best with three rushing touchdowns. He also moved into third place on the Mountain West Conference career rushing list. Hill now has rushed for 3,844 career yards. He passed former Boise State running back Jay Ajayi for third place. Ajayi rushed for 3,796 career yards during his time as a Bronco.
Allen had a career high 334 passing yards on Saturday, with four TD passes -- three of them to Gentry. But Allen also threw both interceptions and was responsible for one of the Cowboys’ two fumbles. The other Cowboy fumble was by senior D.J. May on a kickoff return.
Wyoming’s 5-1 conference record keeps them in a tie for first place in the Mountain Division of the Mountain West.
Wyoming will host San Diego State next Saturday, Nov. 19. The Wyoming-San Diego State game will kick off at 1:30 p.m., M.T., and will be televised on CBS Sports Network. It will be the final regular-season game for the Cowboys and will be Senior Day.