For the second week in a row the University of Wyoming football team relied on its defense to spark the team, as the Cowboys held Northern Colorado to just one touchdown in a 35-7 win on Saturday afternoon in War Memorial Stadium. UW (2-1) returned two interceptions for touchdowns, while collecting five tackles for loss, two sacks and seven pass breakups in the win over UNC (1-2).
"There is no doubt that victories are good and that's what we are out to accomplish," UW head coach Dave Christensen said. "There were a few things that didn't go our way today but there were a lot of things that did and I'm proud of the way our defense stepped up. We came away with a win and we won't apologize for a 35-7 win."
After another slow start to the game, Wyoming got on the board with a 1-yard touchdown run from sophomore running back Shaun Wick early in the second quarter, but it was the UW defense that provided the big play for which the Cowboys were looking. Junior linebacker Jordan Stanton, in just his second career start, picked off UNC's quarterback at the UNC 39-yard line and rumbled all the way back for the touchdown, as UW posted two touchdowns in less than two minutes. The Cowboys added another score in the second quarter and Wick extended the lead to 28-7 early in the fourth quarter, before redshirt freshman cornerback Cortland Fort returned another interception 50 yards for the touchdown to ice the game.
Stanton paced the Poke defense at 12 tackles, his first career game with double-digit tackles, to go with a sack. Senior safety Marqueston Huff and junior cornerback Blair Burns added eight tackles apiece, including three pass breakups for Huff and two for Burns. Redshirt freshman defensive end Uso Olive notched two tackles for loss. The Wyoming defense has earned two turnovers in all three games this season and notched two pick-sixes on Saturday for the first time since 1999.
"It was awesome to come away with two interceptions run back for touchdowns," Christensen said. "It was also awesome for those two guys [Jordan Stanton and Cortland Fort] not only to get those interceptions but to run them back. Jordan has been working hard in practice and Cortland is a tremendous young man who is in the mix and playing."
Offensively, junior quarterback Brett Smith passed for 264 yards and one touchdown on a 30-of-47 showing. Junior wide receiver Dominic Rufran hauled in nine of those passes for 87 yards and one touchdown, while freshman Tanner Gentry and senior Robert Herron both had five catches apiece. Wick ended the day with 87 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
Wyoming racked up a 437-340 advantage in total yards, including 173-65 in rushing yards, while holding the Bears to 5 of 18 on third down and 1 of 3 on fourth down. The Cowboys converted on 9 of their 17 third-down attempts and scored on three of their four red-zone chances.
The Cowboys once again started rolling in the second quarter. Wyoming got on the board with a one-yard plunge from Wick at the 13:34 mark in the second quarter for its first score. The run capped a 76-yard drive in 13 plays for UW. The Poke defense struck quickly thereafter, as Stanton returned an interception 39 yards for UW's second score in less than two minutes. The pick was Stanton's first of his career in his second start and was Wyoming's first defensive score of the season.
After another UNC punt, the Cowboys went to the air to find the endzone. Smith went 8-of-10 on a 95-yard drive that ended with a six-yard touchdown pass to Rufran. The pass tied Smith with Casey Bramlet (2000-03) for most career touchdown passes at 56 and pushed UW in front 21-0 with 6:39 left in the second quarter. The Cowboys drove into UNC territory again late in the half, but missed a 35-yard field goal wide right.
Smith passed for 204 yards and one touchdown on 22-of-34 in the first half, including nine catches for 87 yards by Rufran. Wick rushed for 27 yards on eight carries to help Wyoming rack up a 261-125 advantage in total yards.
It was an eventful third quarter, but neither team found the endzone. UNC drove into Wyoming territory and attempted a 47-yard field goal, but it was blocked by junior linebacker Sonny Puletasi. The Cowboys drove on their ensuing possession, before Smith was picked at the two-yard line. Both defenses picked up the intensity the rest of the quarter with several punts and turnovers on downs.
Northern Colorado got on the board with 13:03 left in the game on a 31-yard touchdown pass, but the Bears attempted an onside kick that was recovered by Wyoming at the UNC 48-yard line. The Cowboys quickly responded with a five-play scoring drive that Wick put an exclamation point on with a 20-yard touchdown scamper. The run put the Cowboys up 28-7, as the game was delayed 58 minutes due to lightning shortly thereafter.
The Wyoming defense took over from there, as the Cowboys held on a fourth and goal from its own three-yard line and took over on downs on the ensuing Northern Colorado drive as well. Fort topped the performance with a 50-yard interception return to put Wyoming up 35-7 with 2:29 left.
Wyoming travels to Air Force next Saturday for its 2013 Mountain West opener. The game will be televised on ESPNU at 8:15 p.m. MT.