LARAMIE — Levi Williams broke the line, put his head down and drug Colorado State’s Marshaun Cameron a few more yards to punctuate a 19-yard run in Friday night’s waning seconds.
Tyler Vander Waal came back in and took a knee to melt the final few off the clock. That’s when Wyoming’s players ran to retrieve the Bronze Boot trophy at the end of their sideline, a routine they’ve gotten used to in recent years.
The Cowboys did it again.
Wyoming’s defense carried the Cowboys to a 17-7 win over CSU. Wyoming only had 273 yards of offense — its second-lowest output all season — while rotating quarterbacks throughout the night, but the Cowboys held the Rams to just 263 yards and pitched a second-half shutout to win their fourth straight Border War, tying the fourth-longest winning streak in the rivalry.
Many of the 21,152 fans seated in the lower bleachers inside War Memorial Stadium poured onto the turf to celebrate with players as they hoisted the trophy that hasn’t left their possession since starting the streak with a 38-17 win in 2016. Many players, including the seniors who never experienced a loss to Wyoming’s most bitter rival, lingered on the turf a little longer to savor their final home victory — one that ended a two-game losing streak.
“I had a little bit of tears come, but they were happy tears,” said senior linebacker Logan Wilson, who intercepted Patrick O’Brien with 3 minutes, 10 seconds left to end any thoughts of a comeback for CSU. “Just a tremendous five years of work that’s gone into this program. Just to cap it off with a win over CSU in the Border War on Senior night, there’s just no better way to top it off.”
Wyoming started Vander Waal at quarterback for the third straight game, but Williams, a true freshman who got the first snaps of his collegiate career, scored the go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter. Vander Waal started 6 of 11 passing for 56 yards, but he limped off the field after getting sacked from behind by Jamal Hicks during Wyoming’s second possession of the second half.
“There was a plan,” Wyoming coach Craig Bohl said of playing both quarterbacks. “(Offensive coordinator Brent) Vigen and I talked during the course of the week. He brought a little extra something in the running game.”
Wyoming started that scoring drive at CSU’s 44-yard line after the Rams decided to go on fourth-and-1 with the game tied at 7. Alijah Halliburton and Esaias Gandy combined to stop O’Brien for no gain on a sneak, and Williams was in the end zone 10 plays later on a sneak of his own to put the Cowboys up 14-7 with 6:04 left in the third quarter.
“At that point of the game, it’s a huge major swing of momentum and field position,” Bohl said. “And when we got the stop, that just flipped the field over. It was like coming up with a takeaway.”
Williams finished with 49 yards on 13 carries to help alleviate some of the pressure on Xazavian Valladay, who sported a brace on his right knee after tweaking it against Utah State. Still, the sophomore running back didn’t show many ill effects from the injury, running for 154 yards on 27 carries for his fifth straight 100-yard game to surpass 1,000 yards on the season — the fourth time in the last six seasons the Cowboys have had a 1,000-yard rusher.
“We’d been practicing all week just doing quarterback runs and then just kind of mixing it up a little bit,” Williams said. “(Bohl) told me to just be ready at all times. You never know when you’re going to go in, so when I went in, I just took advantage of what I had.”
Said Bohl, “With where X was at, we felt like we needed to spread some carries around, so it was good to get (Williams) in there. When Tyler went down, we certainly needed him.”
Wyoming later held CSU on fourth-and-6 from Wyoming’s 41 with less than 10 minutes left after forcing O’Brien into an incompletion. O’Brien went 17 of 29 passing for 217 yards with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Warren Jackson late in the second quarter to answer Wyoming’s 11-play, 93-yard scoring drive capped by Vander Waal’s 1-yard sneak.
But the Cowboys held CSU to 48 rushing yards and just 5 of 14 on money downs (third and fourth). After that final fourth-down stop, Williams used his arm to keep Wyoming’s drive alive with an 18-yard pass to Austin Conway deep into CSU territory before Cooper Rothe put the Cowboys well on their way to yet another rivalry celebration with a 48-yard field goal with 3:33 left.
“Of all the (rivals) that we have, you can throw the records out,” Bohl said. “I know not only for our players and those guys in the locker room, but the former players and then all the people in our state, it’s a big, big game. I think the guys from Wyoming recognize that.”