Cowboys Fall to Cal Poly, 24-22

Sept. 15, 2012

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Laramie, Wyo. -

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Freshman running back Shaun Wick rushed for three touchdowns in his first career start and the University of Wyoming football team held a 15-14 lead over Cal Poly at halftime, but the Mustangs rallied for a 24-22 win over the Cowboys on Saturday afternoon in War Memorial Stadium. A crowd of 21,728 saw UW fight back from a nine-point deficit midway through the fourth quarter but fall just short in the comeback attempt.

"We didn't make the plays that we needed to," UW head coach Dave Christensen said. "The first two drives they go down and score touchdowns which put us behind the eight ball. We had some field position off good punt returns and went ahead before halftime. Then in the second half we couldn't get enough going offensively."

Playing without two of their top offensive weapons in sophomore quarterback Brett Smith and junior wide receiver Robert Herron, Wyoming (0-3) scored a touchdown with seven minutes left in the game to claw within two, but junior quarterback Colby Kirkegaard threw an interception with 1:37 to go to seal the Cal Poly (2-0) win.

Kirkegaard finished 15-of-23 for 123 yards in his first career start, while Wick had 64 rushing yards in addition to the three scores. Sophomore wide receiver Jalen Claiborne hauled in a game-high four catches and was one of five Cowboys to catch a pass. Wyoming was outgained 359-260 in total offense, including 325-137 in rushing yards, but earned a 123-34 advantage in passing yards.

"Colby [Kirkegaard] went out and did the things that we asked of him, to execute the game plan," Christensen said. "We told the other players that we were going to need them to elevate their level of play. We will look at the film. I thought he went out there, worked hard and made the best decisions he could. Shaun [Wick] ran hard and has been a good young player for us. He runs extremely hard and physical. We've got to continue to get him in the mix."

Defensively, senior defensive tackle Mike Purcell notched a career high 16 tackles and was one of five Cowboy defenders in double figures. Senior safety Luke Anderson added 13 tackles, including nine solo stops, while senior linebacker Ghaali Muhammad had 12 tackles and 2.5 for loss. Senior safety Luke Ruff and senior linebacker Korey Jones both contributed 11 tackles. Sophomore cornerback DeAndre Jones snagged his first career interception late in the second quarter and made his first career start in the game.

It was a tale of two quarters in the first half, as Cal Poly got off to a quick start with two rushing touchdowns in the first six minutes for a 14-0 lead. The first came just a minute into the game on a 65-yard scamper over the right side of CP's offensive line, while the second scoring drive included a 74-yard run to the UW five-yard line. The Mustangs racked up 208 rushing yards in the first quarter to just 44 total yards for the Cowboy offense.

Sophomore Blair Burns started a second quarter that was dominated by Wyoming with a 47-yard punt return to midfield at the 12-minute mark, but the Cowboy offense sputtered again with a three-and-out. The UW defense stepped up to force a CP punt and Claiborne returned the punt 37 yards to the Mustang 25 yard line. A statue of liberty play got Wyoming to the Cal Poly three and Wick punched the ball in from one-yard out for UW's first score with 6:55 left in the second quarter. The rushing touchdown was the first of Wick's career. The Cowboys went for two and senior Chris McNeill completed the pass to sophomore defensive end Sonny Puletasi, who bulled his way into the endzone.

Wyoming forced another Cal Poly three-and-out to get the ball back and Kirkegaard completed a 26-yard pass to sophomore wide receiver Dominic Rufran that pushed the Cowboys deep into Mustang territory. Wick earned his second rushing touchdown of the game from one yard out on fourth-and-goal to tie the game at 14-14 and sophomore Stuart Williams' extra point put UW up 15-14 with 56 seconds to go in the half.

Cal Poly attempted to get into field goal range, but Jones picked off Cal Poly's quarterback at midfield to end the half. The Mustangs outgained the Cowboys 251-155 in the first half, including 238-88 on the ground, but Wyoming earned a 16:12 to 13:48 advantage in time of possession. Kirkegaard went 9-of-11 for 67 yards in the opening half and Wick added 30 rushing yards on 14 attempts. Defensively, Purcell had 10 tackles and Anderson added six.

The Cowboy offense grinded to a halt in the third quarter with four punts, as Cal Poly went back in front courtesy of a five-yard rushing touchdown at the 4:57 mark. The play culminated a systematic drive of eight plays for 40 yards in 3:18 and put the Mustangs up 21-15. Cal Poly went up by two scores five minutes into the fourth quarter when it connected on a 51-yard field goal after a 14-play drive for 52 yards put them within range.

Wyoming responded with an eight-play drive over 75 yards that saw Kirkegaard complete several big passes before Wick rushed in from 14 yards out for his third rushing touchdown of the day. The drive took eight plays for 75 yards in 2:15 and drew Wyoming within two at 24-22 with 7:34 left in the game.

The Cowboys forced a Cal Poly punt and got the ball back with 5:22 to go, but went three-and-out. Cal Poly ran the clock down under two minutes, before UW had one final chance with 1:37 to go from its own 25 yard line. Kirkegaard was picked off, though, to end the game.

Wyoming continues its season at Idaho next Saturday at 3 p.m.