Emotional Win

Wyoming's players, coaches emotional after victory over Air Force

2013-09-22T01:00:00Z 2014-05-08T14:08:10Z Wyoming's players, coaches emotional after victory over Air ForceBy MIKE VOREL Star-Tribune staff writer Casper Star-Tribune Online
September 22, 2013 1:00 am  • 

Wyoming's offense had emptied a stadium.

As the clock ran out on Wyoming's 56-23 victory over Air Force on Saturday night, most of the 35,388 blue-clad fans that had entered the gates a few hours earlier were long gone. A parade of cars had begun streaming out of the surrounding parking lots around halftime, a somber acknowledgement of a game that had 30 minutes remaining, but was already clearly finished.

By the time a cooler of water was dumped on Wyoming coach Dave Christensen's head, there weren't many home fans left to see it. Falcon Stadium had been conquered by Cowboys -- both on the field and in the bleachers, occupying a small section in the southeast corner of the stands.

Saturday was a night for tearing down records, as Wyoming tore out pages in the old record book and wrote in new ones. Junior quarterback Brett Smith amassed more total yards -- 511 -- than any Cowboy ever had, eclipsing Josh Wallwork's previous mark from 1996.

The Cowboys scored more points against Air Force -- 56 -- than ever in the teams' previous 51 meetings.

They didn't just win; they won historically. This was cause for celebration.

As both teams emptied the sidelines to shake hands in the middle of the field, coaches Jim Harding and Pete Kaligis embraced in a long hug. Safety Marqueston Huff jumped on cornerbacks coach Renaldo Hill's shoulders, shouting as he was given a clumsy, awkward-looking piggy back ride.

Christensen, his hair slicked back and damp from the impromptu shower, just smiled, an offensive coach having orchestrated a masterpiece.

This was the man Wyoming's players had fought for. Almost a year earlier, Christensen had reached an emotional bottom on the middle of the Jonah Field turf, shouting obscenities at Air Force coach Troy Calhoun following a devastating 28-27 defeat.

That fall, and the view from the bottom of the mountain, made Saturday night's approach to the summit all the more satisfying.

“It was definitely motivation for all of us. It was an incident. He was in the wrong, but we felt like he stood up for us," senior receiver Robert Herron said after the game. "Even though it was wrong, he had our backs. So we wanted to come out here and show him that we have his back no matter what.”

Junior receiver Dominic Rufran, who caught his fifth and sixth touchdowns of the season on Saturday night, has been witness to Christensen's journey over the past year.

It seems appropriate, then, that this game ended with another unplanned postgame moment -- this one the water shower from a group of players who had dedicated the game to their head coach.

“It was definitely emotional. We definitely wanted to come out and play for Coach C," Rufran said. "I personally think he’s been through a lot in the past year, with the whole incident that happened. So we definitely wanted to play for him.”

With the game over and a few remaining fans lingering over the tunnel to the locker rooms, Christensen emerged from the tunnel and met the media.

He could have talked about the 622 total yards, 19 more than his offense had gained in the season opener. He could have waxed poetic on the importance of execution, precision that led to eight total offensive touchdowns.

He could have credited his playcalling, and no one would have batted an eye.

He didn't do that, though. After an emotional victory against an all too familiar opponent, Christensen didn't even talk about his "players."

He talked about his kids.

“I want to say that we have one unbelievable football team. And I love these kids...I have a team full of guys that give so much in all areas of their lives," Christensen said. "And I want to recognize that.

"Not only are they great football players, they’re great individuals. We don’t have off-the-field problems in our program. We had our highest GPA in over 10 years last spring," he continued. "Our guys go to Haiti, they do mission trips, they do community service. We’ve got great kids."

After answering a few more questions, the lights from a few television cameras turned off, Christensen thanked the reporters and he walked towards the tunnel, stopping to hug Brett Smith.

After another moment, he joined his wife and they walked off together.

The stadium was empty, his offense's work complete.

Reach reporter Mike Vorel at Mike.Vorel@trib.com. Follow him on Twitter @MikeVorel.

Copyright 2015 Casper Star-Tribune Online. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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