Yet a number of costly errors meant the Cowboys have slipped to (1-4,0-1) while Nevada improves to (5-1,2-0). A Wyoming victory would have given the Pokes the boost they needed in the conference and improve their bowl chances. Nevada is just outside of being ranked in the top 25 and this likely would have been the biggest regular season victory under Dave Christensen. Instead we are left wondering "What could have been?" which has been a theme for most of the season.
At halftime Nevada was ahead 21-14 but they had lost their star QB Cody Fajardo for the second half with back spasms. Fajardo had torn apart the Cowboy secondary for 221 yards and 2 touchdowns in less then two quarters. He threw an interception on the play he was injured on.
Wyoming had the momentum heading into the second and used it to their full advantage. Halfway through the third quarter Brett Smith found Jalen Claiborne streaking down the sidelines for a 42 yard touchdown pass and the game was tied. Claiborne was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct after he celebrated the touchdown. Nevada went three and out and then Wyoming ate up the rest of third quarter by competing several third down conversions. On the 17th play of the drive Brett Smith ran for a eight yard touchdown in with a 4th and 1 situation. Smith was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct as he celebrated his touchdown. Didn't seem like a big deal at the time, however it would turn out to be costly later.
Wyoming had the lead 28-21 and momentum was fully in their corner. The backup QB for Nevada Devin Combs was struggling to lead the Pack and they had to punt again with 12:30 remaining. Wyoming was able to pick up a couple first downs and get near midfield. On third down Smith threw an incomplete pass and the refs threw a flag. It seemed like it was going to called holding on Nevada and would have given the Pokes another first down. The refs chatted and said there was no penalty which meant Wyoming would be forced to punt.
A frustrated Smith was coming off the field and took off his helmet while yelling at a ref. He was flagged again for unsportsmanlike conduct and was ejected from the game. The Cowboy staff argued the penalty but to no avail. Wyoming fans could feel a lump settle in their stomachs. There was 8:20 left in the game and you could feel the momentum swing again.
''Guy's running off the field, 3 yards from the sidelines running off the field, takes his helmet off and you're going to throw a flag on him,'' Christensen said. ''Kick him out of the game? That's unbelievable.''
Nevada wasted no time and Combs showed a sudden confidence with a 71 yard strike down to the Wyoming 6. Two plays later a 15 yard penalty against Stefphon Jefferson backed the Pack up to the 20. On 3rd and 20 Combs tucked and run up the middle, he tend to run with his head down and doesn't avoid contact. That cost him a fumble which Wyoming recovered. Cowboy fans felt a sense a relief at that point.
Then we remembered that Smith was gone. Jason Thompson came as the starter for that drive. He had completed one pass earlier in the game (to Smith) and ran a couple times. Backed in up their endzone the Cowboys ran a couple running plays and then Thompson missed on third down pass. It only took 50 seconds off the clock and Wyoming punted to the Nevada 49.
Combs was looking more and more comfortable as he drove the Pack deep into Cowboy territory for a second time. With first down from the Wyoming six yard line Combs missed on three straight passes. On fourth down he ran for only two yards and the Pokes took over on downs.
With 2:50 left Wyoming took the ball and Colby Kirkegaard was behind center instead of Thompson. D.J. May ran twice and gained 9 yards. With 3rd and 1 with 1:54 remaining all the Cowboys needed was one yard and then they could run the clock out for the victory. Kirkegaard was in the pistol with Tedder Easton behind him. Kirkegaard took the snap and reached to his left to hand the ball off to Easton, however Easton was on the other side. This forced Colby to run the ball himself and he was stopped for no gain. That mental error meant Wyoming had to punt once again.
Tim Gleeson punted to the Nevada 33 that was returned to the 41 and gave the defense plenty of space to work with. Just 1:45 was left between a Cowboys victory. Combs threw an incomplete pass on first down, then threw it deep on a second down and Marqueston Huff was flagged for pass interference. Then the dagger came as Combs found Richy Turner wide open for a 44 yard touchdown and a tie game.
Wyoming got the ball on their own 34 after a nice return by May. Brandon Miller for seven yards and then Jason Thompson missed a open receiver on second down. There was still a minute left and only three yards needed for a first down. Instead of going for it and trying to at least setup a long field goal the Cowboys knelt down to head to overtime.
I don't how anyone felt good about the Cowboys chances heading in to OT. The offense was in shambles and Combs was now having a field day with the Poke secondary. Wyoming won the toss and wanted the ball second. Combs found Aaron Bradley for 23 yards and Nevada once again had the lead at 35-28. Combs finished the game 11 of 19 for 217 yards and two touchdowns.
Thompson was back at QB for Wyoming and they decided to use his arm. He missed on four straight pass attempts and the game was over.
A game that had so much go right for the Cowboys was for naught. The run defense for Wyoming was incredible. They held the leading rusher in the country to just 78 yards. Wyoming outgained Nevada 143-127 on the ground. Four players for Wyoming: Smith, Easton, Miller and May all averaged at least four yards per carry. Wyoming completed 11 of 20 third down conversions, it was a much higher percentage with Smith in the game.
This is the third close loss the Pokes have suffered this year. This one hurts the most because they had the lead and the opportunity to seal the victory.