Cowboys Takeaways result in rout over New Mexico in key MW Conference game Saturday
Laramie, Wyo. – Forcing turnovers has been a key to Wyoming victories this season, and the Cowboys had a night to remember as they forced seven New Mexico turnovers on way to a 42-3 home victory on Saturday. The seven takeaways were a Wyoming school record.
The Pokes forced five of those turnovers in the first half and scored 35 points off those turnovers as they built a 42-0 halftime lead. The only second half scoring was a 42-yard field goal by New Mexico place-kicker Jason Sanders at the 14:08 mark of the fourth quarter. The Cowboys improved to 5-3 overall and 3-1 in the Mountain West. New Mexico fell to 3-5 and 1-4 in the conference.
“We showed up with great focus and there was a lot to prove,” said Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl. “I know last year was last year, but that didn’t set well with us. Our guys had a great week of practice. We were focused, came out fast and played an explosive second quarter.
“The fumbled or muffed punt they had was huge. We did a good job on our kick-off coverage. Tim (Zaleski) did a good job punting. They have a great punter (Corey Bojorquez), but we did a nice job neutralizing him. Our offense answered the bell and it was an excellent team win.
“Josh (Allen) played an excellent game and it was nice to see Austin (Fort) score some touchdowns along with John (Okwoli) and C.J. Johnson scoring right before the half. I was disappointed we gave up three points after they scored 56 on us last season. It was a tremendous defensive performance overall.”
While the defense was forcing turnovers, the Cowboy offense did an excellent job of converting those turnovers into points. The Cowboy offense converted all five of the first-half turnovers into touchdowns, and put together an 80-yard, seven-play TD drive of their own for the sixth first-half touchdown.
The takeaways began when defensive end Carl Granderson intercepted New Mexico quarterback Lamar Jordan at the UNM 40-yard line and returned it 37 yards down to the three. Two plays later Cowboy quarterback Josh Allen would carry in from one-yard out to give the Cowboys a 7-0 lead with 2:37 remaining in the first quarter.
On the next Lobo possession, Cowboy free safety Marcus Epps intercepted New Mexico QB Tevaka Tuioti at the UNM 31 yard-line and returned it to the 29. Allen began the Cowboys’ possession with an 11-yard pass to wide receiver James Price, which combined with a Lobo personal foul moved the ball to the UNM nine-yard line. After a defensive holding penalty by New Mexico, Allen connected with tight end Austin Fort on a four-yard TD pass to give Wyoming a 14-0 lead with 12:07 remaining in the second quarter.
Following a punt by New Mexico, the Cowboys were forced into a punt themselves, but New Mexico’s Chris Davis muffed the punt and Wyoming cornerback Braden Smith recovered the fumble at the UNM 16. Allen would target tight end Tyree Mayfield on first down and Mayfield would make a spectacular catch on the sideline, getting one foot down at the two-yard line. The play was reviewed and the call on the field stood. On the next play, tight end Fort would take a handoff from Allen on a jet sweep and carry the ball in for a two-yard TD run to extend Wyoming’s lead to 21-0 with 7:32 remaining in the first half.
Wyoming’s defense would force the Lobos into a three-and-out on their next drive. New Mexico punter Corey Bojorquez would successfully change field position, connecting on a 75-yard punt from his own 25-yard line that carried into the Wyoming end zone and forced the Cowboys to start at their own 20-yard line.
It was then that the Cowboy offense would generate a seven-play, 80-yard drive that saw Allen complete 4 of 5 passes for 65 yards, including passes of 14 and 31 yards to Price, nine yards to running back Milo Hall and 11 yards to Fort for the tight end’s third touchdown of the half. Wyoming led 28-0 with only 3:25 remaining in the half.
But the Pokes weren’t done. Strong safety Andrew Wingard intercepted Tuioti on the first play of the following series, returning the interception 12 yards to the UNM 30-yard line. Allen would attack the Lobo defense immediately, throwing back-to-back passes of 11 and 19 yards to wide receiver John Okwoli. The 19-yarder was Okwoli’s first career TD reception of his career and built the Wyoming lead to 35-0 at the 2:46 mark.
The Lobos began their ensuing drive at their own 25-yard line and moved out to their 40-yard line, but on the sixth play of the drive Wingard would intercept his second pass in consecutive possessions — this one at the Wyoming 47-yard line. After the play, New Mexico was charged with a personal foul moving the ball to the New Mexico 38-yard line. Allen wasted no time, dropping back on first down and hitting wide receiver C.J. Johnson on a TD strike scoring the Cowboys third TD in the final three minutes and 25 seconds of the half to take a 42-0 lead into halftime.
Bohl was asked what he told his team at halftime in terms of maintaining their focus in the second half.
“We did talk about making sure we played aggressive and hard,” said Bohl. “We came away with a big conference win. You want to play clean, play hard and I thought we did that. Our defensive guys flew around. Even though we didn’t score on the offense in the second half, I thought we moved the football, controlled the clock and got a lot of players in the game.”
The Cowboys would come up with their sixth takeaway of the game on an interception by cornerback Tyler Hall at the Wyoming 20-yard line with 9:39 remaining in the third quarter.
Neither team would score in the third quarter. New Mexico’s one scoring drive was a 14-play, 59-yard drive resulting in the 42-yard field goal by Sanders with 14:08 remaining in the game.
The seventh and final Lobo turnover occurred on a second fumbled punt return, this one by UNM’s Romell Jordan that was recovered by Wyoming’s Mayfield at the New Mexico 12-yard line. Wyoming would run the ball four straight times, turning the ball over on downs to the Lobos. New Mexico had one final possession as time ran out and the Pokes had recorded their first win over New Mexico since 2013.
Wingard would end the day with two interceptions and five tackles. Cowboy sophomore linebackers Logan Wilson and Cassh Maluia would lead the Pokes with seven tackles each. Senior linebacker Jalen Ortiz had six tackles and a pass breakup. Senior defensive end Nela Lolohea recorded five tackles, including 1.0 sack for 13 yards and 1.0 tackle for loss. Granderson ended the day with his one interception, four tackles, 1.5 TFLs and 0.5 sack. Epps had 1.0 TFL for seven yards and two tackles to go with his interception, and redshirt freshman Smith had four tackles to go with his one fumble recovery on the first New Mexico
Allen completed 16 of 28 passes (57.1 percent) for 234 yards, 4 passing touchdowns, no interceptions, 20 rushing yards, 1 rushing TD and 254 yards of total offense.
Price had four receptions for 68 yards. Johnson had two catches for 44 yards and one TD reception, and Fort had two catches for 15 yards — both going for touchdowns — plus his one rush of two yards for a TD.
Wyoming came into the game having forced 17 opponent turnovers this season, tying them for No. 8 in the nation. The Pokes now have 24 takeaways this season through eight games to average 3.0 takeaways per game. It was the second time this season that UW had forced five turnovers in a game, having also forced five in a 28-23 win at Utah State.
The Cowboys return home again next Saturday to host Colorado State in the annual “Border War” game. It will be the 109th meeting in the series. This season’s game will also mark the 50th anniversary of the “Battle for the Bronze Boot:”. Kickoff next Saturday is set for 5 p.m. from Wyoming’s War Memorial Stadium.