LARAMIE – It was only fitting that, during his last game at War Memorial Stadium, University of Wyoming redshirt senior linebacker Logan Wilson made the defining play in his final Border War.
Wilson intercepted Colorado State quarterback Patrick O’Brien late in the fourth quarter to seal a 17-7 Cowboys victory over the Rams on Senior Night. For the fourth consecutive season, the Bronze Boot will stay in Laramie. With the win, the 2019 senior class finishes 4-0 against the Rams, the first time that has happened since 2012 and just the second such occurrence since 1973.
“It’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my life,” Wilson said. “It always sucks to be a CSU Ram.”
UW redshirt sophomore running back Xazavian Valladay rushed for 154 yards, his fifth 100-yard rushing game in a row, while true freshman quarterback Levi Williams scored his first career touchdown in the 111th edition of the fierce rivalry in front 21,152 faithful fans braving single-digit temperatures.
The Border War win also sets UW up for a likely bowl bid. After being snubbed with a 6-6 record a season ago, a seventh win will likely get them over the hump in 2019.
Wilson, along with senior kicker Cooper Rothe, came up huge during the fourth quarter of their final home game. Rothe hit a 48-yard field goal that turned a one score game into an insurmountable mountain CSU was unable to climb over. It was poetic for Rothe who – coming off an All-American 2018 season – had his share of struggles this season. It was also a perfect moment for Wilson, the Casper product who has bled Brown and Gold for five years.
“That’s storybook type stuff (for both of them). Logan, they call him ‘The Governor,’” UW head coach Craig Bohl said. “For him to leave War Memorial with a big win like this and a pick like that (was great).”
Valladay went over the 1,000-yard mark for the season with his performance, becoming the fourth UW player in six seasons to reach the milestone. He was injured last weekend against Utah State and was held out of practice earlier in the week.
“People thought a week ago when they saw my leg … they thought I was done,” Valladay said. “I feel good right now.”
UW held a potent Colorado State offense averaging better than 30 points per game to a mere seven points, 265 total yards and just 48 yards rushing. The Cowboys’ defense was at its best during crucial moments, stopping the Ram’s offense on both of its fourth down attempts.
There was no bigger stop than senior Alijah Halliburton’s in the third quarter.
Lined up on fourth-and-1, O’Brien attempted to sneak the ball down the left side of the line. Halliburton came up with Esaias Gandy and hit the quarterback for no gain. On the ensuing drive, Williams and Valladay led the charge down the field with their legs, and Williams capped it off with a 1-yard score, the first of his career. Defense leading to offense signified the game’s biggest momentum swing.
“(Valladay has) really come on and done a great job,” Bohl said. “He is not very big … but boy he runs strong.”
The Cowboys threw for just 81 yards in the game but, as is usually the plan, leaned on a powerful ground game to grind out a hard-fought victory. Williams, making his first appearance of the season, rushed for 49 yards, including a 19-yard scamper late in the game that put UW in victory formation. The Pokes ran for 192 yards as a team.
Williams and redshirt sophomore Tyler Vander Waal, who made his third start of the season in place of an injured Sean Chambers, alternated snaps for the majority of the night. Bohl said that, because of Valladay’s injury and his high usage in recent weeks, the plan was to give Williams the ball to help “spread the carries.”
The plan worked perfectly late when Williams busted through the right side of the line on fourth-and-2 and took on a would-be tackler. That tackler ended up bouncing off him and falling to the frozen turf.
“I didn’t want to go down, that’s for sure,” Williams said with a grin. “When it comes down to it, it was my will against his will, and my will prevailed.”
Friday night’s first half was marred by penalties, particularly personal fouls and unsportsmanlike conduct calls. The teams combined for six penalties during the first half, and a personal foul helped lead to each team’s touchdown. A targeting call on CSU defensive end Jalen Bates put the Pokes inside the 10-yard line. Vander Waal then snuck it in from a yard out for the game’s first points. Bates was ejected from the game.
“It was a typical Border War. A lot of emotions, back and forth,” Bohl said.
Colorado State then responded with its lone scoring drive of the night, a 13-play, 75-yard march down the field that was capped off by a Warren Jackson touchdown reception. Tight end Trey McBride caught 3 passes for 49 yards on the 7-minute drive, and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on UW set up Jackson’s scoring grab.
Jackson, one of the top receivers in college football, caught six passes for 95 yards, going over the 1,000-yard mark in the process.
While Williams made some of the biggest plays of the night, it was Vander Waal who took the game’s most meaningful snap. Following tough losses against Boise State and Utah State, being able to line up in the victory formation against the Rams meant a little bit more. After taking a knee, Vander Waal, despite fighting a high-ankle sprain, sprinted toward his sideline to celebrate the milestone victory.
“It feels nice for me to get a trophy game. That was my first trophy game win,” Vander Waal said. “It’s nice for me to get a trophy game under my belt, especially to beat the biggest rival in the Mountain West. It feels great. There’s no better feeling.”
Nearly all of the 15 seniors introduced before Friday night’s game either committed to UW when the team went 2-10 in 2015, or were redshirt players on that team. For Vander Waal, winning Friday’s game was bigger than just getting a monkey off his back. It was about the players who helped set the foundation for a program that is bowl eligible for the fourth year in a row.
“It means everything. For these guys not to lose a game to the Rams … It’s emotional,” Vander Waal said. “It’s not about the 11 hats on the field. It’s about the 105 guys in the locker room that you’re suiting up with to go to a Tuesday, 24-period practice. It’s pretty special.”
For Wilson, Friday was one of the last chapters in a storybook career. His last game in Laramie couldn't have been much sweeter.
“I had (some) tears come. But they were happy tears,” Wilson said. “A tremendous five years of work has gone into this program. To cap it off with a win against CSU in the Border War on Senior Night, there was just no better way to top it off.”
Wyoming closes out its regular season at noon next Saturday at Air Force.