LARAMIE, Wyo. -
The never-say-die University of Wyoming football team used an 18-yard field goal from senior kicker Stuart Williams with just 15 seconds left to capture a dramatic 20-19 victory over Florida Atlantic on Saturday in front of 21,226 fans at War Memorial Stadium.
Williams got his opportunity to win for the Cowboys (3-1, 1-0 MW) after an 88-yard catch-and-run from senior quarterback Colby Kirkegaard to senior wide receiver Dominic Rufran with just 2:05 remaining in the game. The play took the Pokes from their own 8-yard line to FAU's 4-yard line. Three rushes ran the clock down and Williams booted it through for the second game-winning kick of his career.
"This was a huge win for us," UW head coach Craig Bohl said. "You couldn't come up with a better script than this, especially the way we moved the ball down the field. Certainly it was exciting."
A Wyoming victory looked like it might not happen, after Florida Atlantic (1-3) stopped the Cowboys on a fourth-down attempt with 2:09 left in the game and assumed possession on UW's 8-yard line. But senior linebacker Mark Nzeocha forced an Owl fumble on first down that senior linebacker Jordan Stanton recovered. Kirkegaard connected with Rufran on the next play and the rest was history.
"Our players recognized that at the end of the game we need to cause a turnover," Bohl said. "I was about ready to call a timeout. From Florida Atlantic's stand point, they have a big strong guy at quarterback, a veteran player and it worked out that the ball came out and we recovered it. Sometimes in the midst of chaos our football team shows how far they've come. We are maturing."
Junior Shaun Wick and redshirt sophomore D.J. May paced the Poke offense with a potent rushing attack. Wick tallied 111 yards on 14 touches for 7.9 yards per rush, including two 40-yard scampers, while May added 71 yards on 15 carries. Both had one rushing touchdown. Kirkegaard finished 10-of-23 for 161 yards. Rufran hauled in four catches for 110 yards and now has at least one catch in 41-straight games, the second-longest streak in UW history. Defensively, senior linebacker Devyn Harris notched 10 tackles to go over 200 stops for his career.
Wyoming earned a 334-296 advantage in total yards, including 161-108 on the ground, but trailed 188-173 in rushing. The Cowboys converted 17 first downs, but were just 5-of-15 on third-down attempts.
The first half was a back-and-forth affair, as neither team pulled away by more than one score. The Pokes found the endzone on their opening drive when Wick ripped off a 40-yard rush on UW's first play from scrimmage and capped the drive with a 1-yard touchdown plunge. The Owls responded with a 32-yard field goal with 2:55 left in the first quarter. The Poke defense enabled UW's following score thanks to a forced fumble from freshman cornerback Robert Priester that senior defensive tackle Patrick Mertens recovered on FAU's 35-yard line. Williams converted the turnover into a field goal from a career-long 50 yards. The Owls had several other drives during the second quarter that advanced into Wyoming territory, before ending the half with a 30-yard field goal.
The statistical battle was close at halftime as well, as FAU held a slim 159-151 lead in total yards. The Owls outgained the Cowboys 73-45 through the air, but trailed 106-86 on the ground. Both squads earned nine first downs in the first half, but lost a fumble.
Special teams sparked FAU in the second half, as the Owls returned a punt 65 yards deep into Wyoming territory and scored on the next play for a 14-10 lead with 8:56 left in the third quarter. FAU extended the lead to 16-10 on a 43-yard field goal in the final minute of the quarter. The Pokes responded with a four-play drive that featured a 41-yard rush from Wick and a 5-yard touchdown score from May to take a 17-16 lead on the first play of the fourth quarter. The Owls retook a 19-17 lead with a 33-yard field goal midway through the fourth quarter, before the final fireworks.
Wyoming travels to No. 11 Michigan State next Saturday for a 10 a.m. MT kickoff from East Lansing, Mich.