When Wyoming was playing just Nebraska, the Cowboys had a chance.
But battling themselves and the No. 9 team in the land? Not a prayer.
In a game billed as the biggest in the history of War Memorial Stadium, the Pokes (3-1) scrapped with Nebraska in Saturday's 38-14 loss.
But it could have been more than a hold-your-head-high defeat.
It could have been a game. And not just a half.
"I really feel like we could have won that game," Wyoming freshman quarterback Brett Smith said.
Let's be honest, the Pokes lost, first off, because Nebraska (4-0) is really good. They will challenge for a Big Ten title.
But Wyoming was also slapped its first defeat because the Cowboys lacked composure during key moments, with back-breaking personal fouls, a failed fake punt, a dropped ball on a likely touchdown and a shanked field goal miss.
Not one play alone was responsible for the defeat. But altogether they were.
"It's tough to give the No. 9 in the country breaks like that," Wyoming defensive end Josh Biezuns said.
It made it more than tough. It made it impossible.
The troubles started during the second quarter when Wyoming receiver Chris McNeill was flagged for a personal foul.
Without the penalty, the Pokes were looking at second-and-six from the Nebraska 44. Instead, a once-promising drive ended with the Pokes punting two plays later.
The next Nebraska drive, the Huskers marched 80 yards on eight plays with their wide-receiver-playing-quarterback Taylor Martinez walking in from eight yards to increase the their lead to 14-0.
"You can't have those kinds of mistakes in a football game," Wyoming center Nick Carlson said.
Later during the quarter, Wyoming showed the resiliency of a bowl-caliber team.
With the defense slowing the Nebraska spread attack, the Cowboys drove 80 yards on seven plays with Smith connecting with Mazi Ogbonna for a 48-yard touchdown strike to tighten the score to 14-7 heading into halftime.
Fifteen thousand Nebraska fans at War Memorial Stadium stood silent.
Was this an upset in the making?
"In the locker room ... we were all yelling. We believed we could have won," said Smith, who finished 17-for-33 for 166 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. "It was all great. We believed we were going to go take that game."
That's not what happened after the rollicking first-half finish. A Nebraska-sized letdown did.
Right out of halftime, the game quickly turned from upset-in-the-making to a Nebraska blowout.
Nebraska's Tim Marlowe returned a short Daniel Sullivan kickoff to Huskers' 44. UW's DeAndre Jones was flagged for a personal foul after the play, advancing the ball to the Wyoming 41. There was more laundry on the next play, with the Cowboys going offside. Four plays later, safety Luke Anderson was tagged with a personal foul for a hit on Martinez.
Anyone want to guess what happened shortly after?
"That ... killed us," Biezuns said. "... We've just got to make plays out there and not make stupid penalties."
Wyoming had a faint hope on the ensuing possession when Smith lofted a perfect ball to Ogbonna, who escaped over the top on one of the staunchest pass defenses in the country. But the play was only a thrilling incompletion, as the ball shot through Ogbonna's hands and Wyoming later punted.
"It was a momentum-changer," Wyoming offensive coordinator Gregg Brandon said. "That was a pivotal play. If we convert that and go in to score, we would have kept the game closer."
There were other plays during the second half that stung: A missed Sullivan chip-shot field goal, a sluggishly executed fake punt and Smith's interception stand out.
But after the first seven minutes of the third quarter, none truly mattered. Teams only get so many chances against Nebraska, and Wyoming squandered them.
"I feel we were so close," Smith said.