LARAMIE – Coach Craig Bohl said he needed earplugs because it was so loud in the locker room after the game.
Before he came to the podium for postgame interviews, true freshman safety Andrew Wingard raised his arms and simply said: “Finally.” He also said players were kicking down chairs and pouring Gatorade all over themselves.
Sophomore running back Brian Hill couldn’t wait to get done with his media obligations to get back to celebrating with his teammates.
The University of Wyoming football team lifted an enormous weight off its shoulders with a 28-21 homecoming win over Nevada in front of an announced crowd of 17,026 on Saturday at War Memorial Stadium.
UW (1-6 overall, 1-2 Mountain West) not only won for the first time this season, it snapped a nine-game losing streak and school-record six-game home losing skid – both dating to last season.
“It’s about time,” said UW junior linebacker D.J. May, who recorded a sack on fourth down late in the game that sealed the victory. “I know people are pretty disappointed in us. But we’re a team and we’re not worried about the outside noise. We’re worried about the internal stuff and what we can do to get better.
“But to give everyone something to celebrate is cool.”
This win didn’t bring UW a conference championship or a bowl victory. It landed the Cowboys in the win column for the first time this season and for the first time in nearly an entire calendar year.
It was a win many didn’t think would come this season after the Cowboys lost by double digits in their first six games.
You know, it’s okay to celebrate.
Especially for a team that had little to celebrate the previous six weeks.
This game wasn’t perfect, but at times it was quite impressive.
The Cowboys scored touchdowns on four consecutive possessions between the second and the third quarters. That included touchdowns on their last possession of the first half, and first of the second half.
Redshirt senior quarterback Cameron Coffman was nearly perfect, completing 18 of 20 passes for 213 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Coffman also stayed upright – the first time this season UW has not allowed a sack. One of Coffman’s incompletions was a dropped pass.
UW didn’t turn the ball over, and it showed great balance with 272 rushing yards and 213 passing.
If it’s possible, Hill had a “quiet” 188 yards on a career-high 33 carries.
UW took a 28-7 lead early in the third quarter when true freshman running back Kellen Overstreet scored his first college touchdown on a 5-yard run.
After that, the Cowboys didn’t throw the ball much. In fact, they threw it only four times in the second half. It would have been good to see UW try and keep Nevada’s defense off balance as it had most of the game.
Then there’s UW’s defense.
It missed two starters in junior middle linebacker Lucas Wacha and sophomore cornerback Robert Priester, ruled out before the game with concussions. Their replacements played huge roles in the victory.
Junior middle linebacker Eric Nzeocha forced a fumble by Nevada junior quarterback Tyler Stewart on a late fourth-down play that sealed UW’s victory.
Redshirt freshman cornerback C.J. Jennings made his first career start and tied for team-high honors with nine tackles. Jennings had a team-best seven solo stops.
Nzeocha began the season starting at middle linebacker, but his lack of production forced UW to make some changes. Injuries forced the Cowboys to start him Saturday.
Jennings has been up and down on the depth chart since spring drills, but Bohl said he played “excellent and was definitely challenged.”
The Cowboys also were challenged late in the game, and rose to it in many ways.
When Nevada was driving for the game-tying score late, there was a sense the young Cowboys would find a way to lose a close game, something new for this particular group.
It never happened.
“No one freaked out,” Wingard said. “We listened to our coaches, who talked to us calmly. Nevada was going to throw it and be fast.
“We just had to keep the ball inside and in front of us and we were going to win the game.”
Senior defensive end Eddie Yarbrough said he saw several of his teammates “grow up” Saturday.
“It’s really an awesome feeling and emotional to see how guys get better from week to week,” Yarbrough said.
There were some bad moments in the game. The worst came when junior receiver Tanner Gentry suffered what Bohl called a separated or sprained shoulder. Gentry’s status moving forward is unknown.
The Aurora, Colorado, product is UW’s go-to and big-play receiver. The offense stalled without him Saturday. It’s almost frightening to think what the Cowboys will do if Gentry has a prolonged absence.
Junior Chase Appleby, UW’s starting nose tackle, also went down with what appears to be a season-ending knee injury.
Nevada’s near-comeback would have been moot had UW’s true freshman walk-on kicker Tristan Bailey not missed two field goals to the right from 39 and 35 yards. Bailey is now 1 for 7 on the season.
Seven penalties for 71 yards also didn’t help.
Still, this was the Cowboys’ most complete game of the season and something of a blueprint of how it wants to play the rest of this season and beyond.
That’s by being physical on both lines, being balanced on offense with a run-first mentality and making enough stops on defense to win the game.
It worked, and ended a long run of frustration and “we’ll get them next time” mentality.
“To say it’s a hallmark win may be an overstatement, but it was step in the right direction,” Bohl said.
That was the best way to describe this win for the Cowboys.