LARAMIE – The visitor’s locker room at Boise State’s Albertsons Stadium was so quiet you could “hear a pin drop,” according to redshirt sophomore quarterback Tyler Vander Waal.
The plane ride back home to Laramie might have been even quieter.
Following a crushing 20-17 overtime loss to Boise State, the University of Wyoming football team boarded a plane and flew directly back to Wyoming. After wins, the team sings UW’s fight song and is awarded ice cream bars to celebrate, Vander Waal said. After last Saturday’s loss, that singing was replaced with complete and utter silence, interrupted only by the occasional sniffle and stifling of tears.
“It was brutal,” Vander Waal said. “The whole mood of the plane was shock, disbelief, heartbreak. So, it was not a fun plane ride to be on.”
The loss makes a trip to the Mountain West championship game rather difficult for the Cowboys (6-3 overall, 3-2 Mountain West); Boise State has yet to lose a conference game, while the Pokes have two conference losses with just three regular-season games remaining.
While the loss was a devastating blow to UW’s conference title hopes, head coach Craig Bohl isn’t counting his team out yet. The Cowboys had two conference losses when they won the Mountain Division in 2016.
That season, UW lost to both UNLV and New Mexico following an upset win over No. 13 Boise State. The Cowboys hosted the Mountain West title game, losing to San Diego State 27-24.
“In the ’16 year, we hosted the game with two conference losses. Now, the dynamics were completely different because of who we had lost to,” Bohl said. “But we can only take care of the business we have.”
There are plenty of reasons outside of a conference title that will keep the Pokes motivated, however, according to senior linebacker Logan Wilson. The 2019 season is about more than winning a division.
“We’re not going to let Boise State beat us against Utah State and so on for the rest of the season,” Wilson said. “There’s going to be some good things that we did in (the Boise) game, and there’s going to be some bad things we need to improve on. But we still have a lot to play for.”
As team leaders, seniors like Wilson and safety Alijah Halliburton know it’s their job to keep the troops hungry. There is still plenty left on the table, even if it isn’t the goal the team had back in August or September. It’s about finding a silver lining.
Halliburton is, of course, preaching that the Cowboys can still win the division. But it’s not just about that.
“As long as we put all of our effort out there on the field and did the best we could, I think that’s what counts the most,” Halliburton said.
One such attainable goal is reaching the 10-win mark. Wyoming has not won 10 games in a season since 1996, the year Wilson was born.
At the helm of the Pokes that year was Joe Tiller, who took the head coaching job at Purdue the following season. With its six wins, Wyoming is bowl eligible for the fourth straight season; the last time Wyoming won at least six games that many years in a row was from 1993-99.
It’s been more than two decades since Wyoming reached the double-digit win mark. That’s something Wilson is keeping notice of.
“We still have a lot left to play for. We still have a chance to potentially win 10 games … It’s been a long time since that happened,” Wilson said. “We have to take it one game at a time. We have to beat Utah State this week, and we’ll focus on the teams after on our schedule.”
The other thing the Cowboys are playing for is more intangible then a specific number of wins. The 2019 Cowboys are extremely close, and are held together by a strong group of seniors, Bohl said. As cliché as it sounds, players want to put forth their best effort for one another; Wilson, Halliburton and the other seniors on the team won’t get another chance to don brown and gold once the season comes to an end.
That’s enough motivation in itself to finish the season strong.
“I think we have really good leadership within our football team,” Bohl said. “I think they want to play well for each other.”