Sept. 3, 2011
LARAMIE, Wyo. - Brett Smith's first career victory was a big one, as the true freshman quarterback led the University of Wyoming football team on a game-winning touchdown drive with less than two minutes left to claim a dramatic 35-32 win over Weber State on Saturday night in War Memorial Stadium. More than 21,492 fans saw Smith connect with sophomore wide receiver Robert Herron in the back of the endzone with 22 seconds to go for the go-ahead score.
"I was very pleased with the play of Brett Smith, especially the way he executed in the final drive," head coach Dave Christensen said. "There are plenty of plays that you would like to have back but we'll go in the film room tomorrow and make some adjustments. When a quarterback goes in with two minutes to go, one timeout and trying to come from behind, it's a defining moment. You have to define your career and what you're going to do as a player and I think that Brett did that tonight in this situation."
After maintaining an advantage the majority of the game, the Cowboys (1-0) surrendered the lead on a 49-yard pass from Wildcat quarterback Mike Hoke to wide receiver Xavian Johnson early in the fourth quarter. The squads traded punts down the stretch, until UW got the ball back with 2:12 left and Smith crafted the game-winning drive.
"I had nothing but confidence going into that final drive with the supporting cast I had around me, plus we've practice two minute situations many times in practice," Smith said. "When I went out there, it was second nature and I was happy that we were able to convert on that fourth down. Chris made a great catch and on the last play Rob did a good job of getting open."
The 13-play, 73-yard march featured Smith hitting six different receivers and going 8-of-12, including a completion on fourth and 11. His final strike found Herron wide open in the back left corner of the endzone. Smith finished his first career start going 27-of-41 for 294 yards and three touchdowns.
Herron snagged seven catches for 104 yards and two touchdowns to earn his first career 100-yard receiving game. Junior running back Alvester Alexander and senior wide receiver Mazi Ogbonna made six catches each for 62 and 42 yards respectively, and Ogbonna had a touchdown also. Alvester added 30 yards and a touchdown on the ground, while sophomore running back Brandon Miller led UW with 59 yards on 10 carries.
"Robert has some big play potential. He's matured drastically over the past several months," Christensen said. "He had a great off-season, played well in the spring game and it's carried over to this season. We've also got some other receivers that have some ability. We had our run game going tonight and I feel good about our running backs. We're going to continue to get better each week, and I'm certainly pleased with a lot of areas. We need to clean things up defensively, because I felt we gave up too many big plays."
Defensively, junior strong safety Luke Ruff paced Wyoming with 10 tackles. Junior defensive end Korey Jones and sophomore cornerback Marqueston Huff each had nine tackles, while senior defensive tackle Gabe Knapton had six tackles and UW's only sack.
Smith's UW career got off to a dubious start, as he threw an interception on the Cowboys' first drive. The ball slipped out of his hand on UW's second play and WSU defensive end Pete Rolf snagged it out of the air. Taking over at the UW 31-yard line, the Wildcats quickly drove to the two before running back Tanner Hinds plunged into the endzone on a fourth-and goal to put WSU up 7-0 four minutes into the game.
Smith bounced right back to lead Wyoming on a six-play, 76-yard touchdown drive in 2:01. On successive plays, he hit Alexander for a 43-yard strike and a 28-yard toss to Miller to drive UW to Weber State's three. Two plays later he scored the Cowboys' first touchdown of the game on a bootleg.
The squads exchanged punts, before the Cowboys went to the ground. Miller, Alvester and junior Ghaali Muhammad combined for 75 rushing yards on nine carries to spearhead a UW drive that went to the air just once. Muhammad ripped off a 25-yard burst, as Alexander punched the ball in from four yards out to put UW up 14-7 with 1:16 left in the first quarter. The 10-play drive went 80 yards in 2:58.
Weber State went to the ground also, as the squads went to the second quarter. WSU running back Josh Booker posted consecutive rushes of 11, eight and 10, but the drive stalled at UW's 22-yard line and the Wildcats were forced to make a 40-yard field goal by Shaun McClain to draw within 14-10.
Freshman Dominic Rufran swung with momentum right back to Wyoming with a 33-yard return on the ensuing kickoff, but a fourth-and two attempt from at the WSU 35 fell incomplete and the Wildcats momentarily took over. The UW defense forced a three and out and the Cowboy special teams came up big, as WSU snapped the ball over the punter's head. Redshirt freshman Darrenn White jumped on the ball at the Wildcat nine-yard line and the Cowboys were in business again. Smith connected with Ogbonna on the next play for his first career touchdown pass to give UW a 21-10 advantage with 9:03 to go in the half.
Weber State responded with a 35-yard field goal at the 6:13 mark and went to the air for a touchdown pass with 1:22 to go, but junior defensive tackle Mike Purcell blocked the extra-point attempt and the Cowboys went to the break with a 21-19 lead.
Smith went 8-of-14 in the first half for 126 yards with one touchdown and one interception, while Alexander had 52 receiving yards. Miller posted 48 rushing yards on seven carries. Jones had eight tackles, including one for loss in the first frame.
The start of the second half saw both teams step up the intensity on the offensive side of the ball. On UW's first drive Smith crafted a 13-yard rush, before connecting with Herron over the middle for a 45-yard touchdown strike. The four-play, 66-yard drive put UW up 28-19 three minutes into the third quarter. Weber State went to the air for seven points also, as Hoke connected on tosses of 50 and 30 yards before Booker rushed the final 12 to draw WSU within 28-26 midway through the quarter.
The defenses responded in kind. UW was forced to punt on the following drive, before sophomore linebacker Devon Harris stacked up Hinds for no gain on WSU's fourth-and-one attempt from the Cowboys' 40. Wyoming couldn't capitalize on the advantage, but senior punter Austin McCoy notched a 50-yard punt to Weber State's one which was promptly followed by a Wildcat punt.
Weber State was the first to find its groove, with a four-play 80-yard drive to take the lead, 32-28, with 12:18 left in the game. Hoke hit Hinds for 24 yards, before connecting with Johnson for 49 yards and the touchdown. The two-point attempt was batted incomplete.
Wyoming started to craft a drive with Alexander picking up six yards on a fourth and five, but the Cowboys' second fourth-down attempt on the drive failed and WSU took over at their own 10 midway through the fourth. With time winding down, the squads exchanged punts until UW got the ball back with 2:12 left and Smith took over.