More often than not, the University of Wyoming football team made plays – especially late – to win games.
But many of those same plays that it made in a one-point victory over San Diego State two weeks ago in Laramie UW didn’t make in a 27-24 loss to the Aztecs in the Mountain West championship game in front of 24,001 on Saturday night at War Memorial Stadium.
The Cowboys (8-5) lost in their first appearance in the game. It was their first conference championship game since 1996 and their first December home football game since 1902. UW is expected to accept an invitation to play in the Poinsettia Bowl today where it will face former Mountain West and Western Athletic Conference rival Brigham Young on Dec. 21 in San Diego.
San Diego State (10-3) won its second consecutive MW title and is expected to accept a bid to the Las Vegas Bowl.
In its Nov. 19 victory over the Aztecs, UW scored 34 points, gained 487 (205 rushing, 282 passing) yards, possessed the ball for nearly 37 minutes and were a combined 11 of 19 on third and fourth down.
In this game, UW had its second-lowest output of the season in points and rushing yards (95). It committed three turnovers (compared to just one two weeks ago). The Cowboys fell to 0-4 this season when they’ve committed three or more turnovers.
UW also was a combined 2 of 17 on third and fourth down, and had the ball for nearly 8 minutes less than San Diego State.
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Josh Allen threw two fourth-quarter touchdowns to senior wide receiver Tanner Gentry and redshirt freshman C.J. Johnson – just like he did in the game two weeks ago.
But there were no late-game heroics on this night.
UW got the ball down three points and deep in its own territory twice late in the game. Both times, it gave the ball back on downs as the result of quarterback sacks.
Allen, who was responsible for all three of UW’s turnovers with two interceptions and one lost fumble, was sacked four times and hit numerous others.
“They brought a few different stunts and blitzes that we really didn’t prepare all that much for,” Allen said. “They played a lot of man coverage, and they (blitzed) almost every play it seemed like.
“It’s hard to adjust to that in games sometimes.”
San Diego State coach Rocky Long said his defense did nothing different as far as schemes and blitzes.
“Our players played better. I hate to be simple like that, but our players just executed the defense a lot better than we did a couple of weeks ago.”
You can also say that for the offense and special teams. Despite the close score, San Diego State out-executed UW in all three phases of the game.
It wasn’t an embarrassing effort by UW. It was an entertaining championship game between two good teams.
The Cowboys simply didn’t do enough to win.
Aside from what was mentioned above, they also kicked off to San Diego State junior Rashaad Penny, who returned a kickoff for a touchdown two weeks ago. His 75-yard return set up what proved to be San Diego State’s game-winning score in the fourth quarter. He also had another long return that set up the Aztecs’ first touchdown in the first quarter.
Penny ran for a game-high 117 yards and two touchdowns, and was named offensive most valuable player of the game.
UW true freshman place-kicker Cooper Rothe made a field goal, but missed a 42-yarder. He made both of his field goals two weeks ago.
Rothe’s 46-yard field goal in the first quarter hit the cross-bar and bounced over it for the first points of the game. After Allen threw his first interception to San Diego State senior cornerback Damontae Kazee (the game’s defensive MVP), he made the tackle on Kazee and forced a fumble near the goal line where the ball went into the end zone and then out of bounds.
That ended up being a touchback for UW and, for a brief time, it looked like this might be the Cowboys’ night.
But it wasn’t meant to be.
Was UW ready to be on the big stage like this? San Diego State had been there before.
Everyone can speculate, and they will have their opinions.
But the Cowboys lost because they didn’t do the things they did the last time they beat the Aztecs. They also didn’t do enough of the things they needed to do to win any football game.