Sept. 22, 2012
MOSCOW, Idaho -
Sophomore quarterback Brett Smith had a career-high five touchdown passes and the Wyoming defense held up when it counted Saturday as the Cowboy football team earned its first win of the season, toppling Idaho 40-37 in overtime.
Smith, who made his return to the Cowboy lineup after missing the game versus Cal Poly the previous week, tossed his fifth TD of the game on Wyoming's first play of overtime. He hit sophomore wide receiver Jalen Claiborne in the corner of the endzone, who made the game-winning catch over the Idaho defender. The Pokes (1-3 overall) won their fifth road game in the last eight tries, and held Idaho (0-4 overall) to just a field goal on their possession in the first overtime to seal the win. It was the first overtime game since 2009 for Wyoming.
Smith finished 23-of-35 for a career-best 365 yards and five scores, and senior wide receiver Chris McNeill had eight catches for a career-high 219 yards and one score. McNeill's receiving yardage total was the sixth-best effort in Cowboy history. Defensively, junior cornerback Marqueston Huff had 11 stops and three pass breakups, while senior defensive tackle Mike Purcell had five tackles, one sack and a forced fumble.
The Cowboy defense, which tallied a season-high three takeaways, set the tone early, stopping Idaho's first drive as senior linebacker Oliver Schober scooped up a fumble by Idaho just 29 seconds into the game, giving Wyoming the ball at the Vandal 31.
Three plays later, UW freshman quarterback Jason Thompson scored on his first carry of his collegiate career on an 11-yard scamper into the endzone, giving Wyoming a 7-0 lead with 13:31 remaining in the first period.
Idaho answered that score with a 26-yard field goal to make the game 7-3 with 7:28 to go in the first quarter. On Idaho's next drive, the Vandals added a 53-yard field goal to draw closer, making it 7-6 with 3:27 to go in the first period.
But the Cowboys showed their offensive prowess on the very next play from scrimmage, as Smith hit McNeill in stride with a 73-yard toss. McNeill juggled the catch but hung on and broke a tackle to trot in for a touchdown. That made it 14-6 UW.
The Vandals scored their first touchdown of the game on a 5-yard TD pass with 11:47 to go in the second quarter, and Wyoming took possession with a narrow 14-13 advantage. The UW offense, however, couldn't move the ball effectively, and Idaho forced a punt.
The Vandals then marched 90 yards on 13 plays in six minutes, 30 seconds to put another TD on the board and Idaho led 20-14.
Smith then led the Pokes on a seven-play, 51-yard drive but sophomore place-kicker Stuart Williams pushed a 41-yard field goal attempt wide right, and Idaho held onto the 20-14 lead. Later in the Vandal drive, UW sophomore defensive end Sonny Puletasi pushed his way past the Idaho offensive line for a sack and forced fumble. Puletasi's recovery gave the Cowboys the ball at the Idaho 40 with five seconds left, but a Hail Mary attempt just before the half went incomplete.
UW opened the second-half scoring as the Pokes went 90 yards on 11 plays when sophomore Dominic Rufran scored his second touchdown of the season as Smith found him from four yards out. Wyoming evened things up at 20 but Idaho blocked the ensuing PAT to preserve the tie.
The two teams traded punts over the next several possessions. The Vandals looked primed for another score as they drove to the Wyoming 1, but freshman linebacker Siaosi Hala`api`api ripped it out of Idaho quarterback Dominique Blackman's hands and senior linebacker Ghaali Muhammad recovered it. The very next play, Smith hit his favorite target McNeill for an 80-yard bomb. Two plays later, Smith found sophomore wide receiver Justin Berger for a 15-yard touchdown. It was Berger's first career touchdown, and the score made it 27-all with 11:26 left.
After an Idaho punt, Smith drove the Pokes down to the Idaho 6-yard line and then hit junior running back Brandon Miller on the sideline. Miller bulled his way into the endzone for a 34-27 lead with 3:37 remaining.
The Vandals, however, scored with no time remaining on the clock when Blackman tossed an 8-yard TD to Mike Scott for the equalizer at 34-all.
On Idaho's first possession of overtime, Purcell and junior Mark Willis combined to sack Blackman to force the Vandals into a 49-yard field-goal try. The kick was true, but Wyoming got its chance to win the game and Smith connected with Claiborne for the game winner.
Wyoming heads into its bye week and will be off until the Pokes take on the Nevada Wolf Pack in Reno, Nev., on Oct. 6.