Pokes Finish Season Strong

The Wyoming Cowboys captured an exciting 35-28 home win over UNLV on Saturday in their 2015 season finale at War Memorial Stadium. The Cowboys generated a season high 538 yards of total offense on way to the victory. UW was led by sophomore running back Brian Hill, who rushed for 232 yards on way to setting a new school single-season record of 1,631 rushing yards.

Hill ended the day with his fifth career 200-yard rushing game (fourth of the season) and his 11th 100-yard game in two seasons. He was joined on offense by senior quarterback Cameron Coffman, who completed 14 of 24 passes (58.3 percent) for 248 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. Coffman’s favorite target was junior tight end Jacob Hollister. Hollister caught five passes for 119 yards, including a 64-yard TD reception with 2:20 remaining in the game that proved to be the game winner. For Hollister, it was the first 100-yard receiving game of his career.

Wyoming’s defense did their part in the win. Senior defensive end Eddie Yarbrough concluded his outstanding college career with seven tackles, 2.0 sacks, 2.0 tackles for loss and a forced fumble. The Pokes defense broke up a season high six passes, and sophomore linebacker Tim Kamana came up with his first interception of the season — second of his career. Freshmen safeties Marcus Epps (10 tackles) and Andrew Wingard (9) led the Cowboys in tackles. Wingard improved his team-leading tackle total to 122, which ranks as the 15th best single-season total in Wyoming history.

After the game, much of the focus was on the excitement of sending the senior class out with a win.

“It was a hard fought game and I couldn’t be more pleased, especially for our seniors,” said head coach Craig Bohl. “We are excited about what kind of message it’s sends for next year. We are going to enjoy this win. It was a good win at home and we are pleased with that.

“We are starting to mature, Cameron (Coffman) did a good job operating those drives along with our line and the play of Brian (Hill). It shows resolve. UNLV had a prolific offense coming into the game, but the defense did a good job getting off the field.

“The players had an attitude they weren’t going to be denied. You can’t undersell the fact about how much those seniors mean to this team. They have been great role models and leaders and we wanted to send them out on a winning note.”

Running back Hill was asked about breaking the single-season rushing record of 1,455 yards originally set by Ryan Christopherson back in 1994, but he quickly shifted his attention to the significance of sending the seniors off on a winning note.

“Feels like every other day to tell you the truth,” said Hill. “I feel like the same Brian. When the season is over, I can look back and reflect on this record, but this is the day for the seniors. This was an amazing feeling to send out the seniors on a winning note. Last year, it hurt my heart for our seniors when we lost to New Mexico.”

The Cowboys began the game winning the toss and choosing to receive, but a three-and-out on their first series led to an Ethan Wood 46-yard punt and UNLV began its first drive at its own 26-yard line. The Rebels connected on a 38-yard pass play from quarterback Blake Decker to wide receiver Devonte Boyd on their first play from scrimmage, taking the ball down to the Wyoming 36-yard line. Five plays later, Decker and Boyd connected again on a 22-yard touchdown pass to give the Rebels the early lead, 7-0. It was the only time the Cowboys would trail in the game.

Following a 25-yard kickoff return by UW’s Kellen Overstreet, the Cowboys put together a nice drive of their own going 62 yards on 13 plays down to the UNLV 11-yard line. But on third and five from the UNLV 11, Coffman was intercepted by the Rebels’ defensive end Sonny Sanitoa on a pass intended for tight end Tyree Mayfield. Sanitoa returned the interception 42 yards to the 50-yard line.

The Rebels moved the ball 31 yards on its second drive of the game, but Cowboy defenders Siaosi Hala’api’api and Carl Granderson combined to stop UNLV quarterback Kurt Palandech for a one-yard loss on a third and one on the Cowboy 18 forcing a field goal. The 36-yard field-goal attempt by Nicolai Bornand was wide left. Following a Cowboy punt on its next possession, UNLV took possession at its own 32-yard line. The first quarter ended with UNLV leading 7-0.

On the fifth play of the Rebels first drive of the second quarter, Wyoming linebacker Tim Kamana intercepted Decker at the Wyoming 25-yard line and returned the interception five yards to UW’s 30. After two punts by each team, Wyoming took over at its own 20-yard line and the ensuing drive would be a historic one. The drive began with runs of six and two yards by Hill, then on the third play Hill broke a 72-yard touchdown run down Wyoming’s home sideline. With that carry, he not only tied the game at 7-7, but he broke the Wyoming single-season rushing record improving his season total to 1,522 rushing yards at that point in the game. He became the first Cowboy to rush for over 1,500 yards in a single season. By the end of the game, he would surpass 1,600 yards. Hill also notched his seventh 100-yard rushing game of the season and the 11th of his career.

With the game now tied at 7-7, UNLV took over at its own 38-yard yard line after a 37-yard kickoff return by Aaron Criswell. The Rebels proceeded to drive 44 yards in eight plays to the Wyoming 18-yard line. On fourth and two from the 18, Rebel place-kicker Bornand attempted a 35-yard field goal and missed wide left for the second time in the game.

Only 48 seconds remained in the half as UW took over at its own 20. It appeared the half might end tied, but the Cowboys had other ideas. Running back Joshua Tapscott was stopped on first down for no gain. Wyoming took a timeout. Following an incomplete pass, Tapscott broke a 30-yard run to midfield on third and 10. Coffman was tackled for no gain on first down, followed by UW’s second timeout of the drive. Coffman then completed a 15-yard pass to tight end Jacob Hollister, and UW’s quarterback spiked the ball on the next play to stop the clock. On the seventh play of the drive, Coffman hit freshman wide receiver James Price on a 35-yard touchdown pass — the first TD reception of Price’s career — to give Wyoming a 14-7 lead with six seconds remaining in the first half.

A squib kick by the Cowboys was returned 19 yards by Criswell. The Cowboys were called for a personal foul on the return and UNLV had time for one play from the 50-yard line. Decker threw a quick out to Boyd, who took it 32 yards against Wyoming’s prevent defense before being tackled at the Wyoming 18-yard line to end the half.

The second half began with the Wyoming’s defense setting the tone, forcing back-to-back three-and-outs by UNLV. On the Cowboys’s second drive of the second half, UW took over at its own nine-yard line after a 50-yard punt that was muffed by Wyoming’s Wingard, who then recovered his own fumble. The Pokes proceeded to drive the ball 91 yards in seven plays. The possession started with four running plays for 24 yards. Then a 36-yard pass from Coffman to tight end Hollister moved the ball down to the UNLV 31. That big pass play was followed by a 12-yard run by Hill and the drive was capped off by a 19-yard TD pass from Coffman to Jake Maulhardt to give the Cowboys a 21-7 lead. It was Maulhardt’s eighth TD reception of the season and the 17th TD pass by Coffman.

The Rebels immediately responded with a 10-play, 74-yard drive that included a 27-yard pass completion from Decker to Criswell followed by a nine-yard TD pass from Decker to Kendal Keys to pull the Rebels within a touchdown at 21-14. That is how the third quarter would end.

The fourth quarter would result in the highest scoring quarter of the game, with each team mounting two touchdown drives. The Rebels began the fourth quarter scoring on its second consecutive possession, driving 73 yards in nine plays. Big plays on the drive included a 17-yard run by Xzaviar Campbell, a 26-yard pass from Decker to Criswell and a 13-yard TD pass from Decker to wide receiver Brandon Presley to tie the game at 21-21.

In need of an answer, the Wyoming offense responded with an 85-yard drive of its own. A 20-yard reception by Maulhardt and a 15-yard run by Hill were among the big plays. On second and six from the UNLV eight-yard line, Wyoming dialed up a reverse with senior wide receiver Justin Berger scoring the first rushing touchdown of his career to give the Pokes a 28-21 lead with 6:04 remaining.

UNLV would not give in, however, taking only two minutes and 27 seconds to move 75 yards in seven plays, highlighted by a 24-yard run from Campbell followed by a 10-yard touchdown run by quarterback Kurt Palandech to tie the game for the third time on the day at 28-28.

Only 1:17 remained when the Cowboys began its next possession, and it appeared the two Mountain West foes were heading for their fourth overtime game against one another. After runs of three and four yards by Hill, the Cowboys faced a third and three from their own 36-yard line. It was then that Coffman found tight end Hollister on a 64-yard catch and run down the UNLV sideline to put the Cowboys up to stay at 35-28. For Coffman, it was his 18th TD pass of the season, and for Hollister it was his third touchdown reception in 2015.

UNLV received the kickoff with 2:20 left in the game, but good kick coverage by Wyoming pinned the Rebels back at their own 14-yard line. On first down, Yarbrough capped off his record-setting career with a sack of Decker, forcing the UNLV QB to fumble on the play. That play resulted in the ball being place at the UNLV one-yard line. It was Yarbrough’s 39th career tackle for a loss, which is the Wyoming school record, and it increased his career sack total to 21.5 — ninth best in Wyoming history.

Three plays later, Wyoming took over on downs at the UNLV 15-yard line, with 1:28 remaining. UNLV would call all three of its second-half timeouts to try and get the ball back one last time, but on a fourth and one at the UNLV six-yard line Hill would gain four yards to give the Cowboys a first down. Coffman would kneel down on the final play, and the Cowboys had captured a 35-28 victory, sending their senior class out on a winning note and giving a young Wyoming team a positive end to their 2015 season.