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LARAMIE — There was no shortage of plays that could have won the Wyoming football team its season-opening game against Northern Illinois.

There was only one that did.

Cowboys quarterback Josh Allen evaded three tacklers on a 7-yard touchdown scramble that gave Wyoming a 40-34 triple-overtime win against the Huskies in the wee hours of Sunday morning.

The win was a signature one for coach Craig Bohl as he continues his rebuild and an unforgettable one for those who stuck out the longest, latest game in Wyoming history.

“We saw a lot of positive things coming,” Bohl said. “Certainly felt like we were going to be more competitive. But that next step, to go from being competitive to go ahead and winning, that’s something that you can’t actually know all of that. That comes down to some character, and I believe we’ve got some really good character on this football team.”

The game was scheduled to start at 8:30 p.m. Mountain Time, but lightning in the area pushed kickoff to 10:20.

Wyoming had multiple chances to secure the win before Allen dove into the end zone at 2:34 a.m. The Cowboys held a seven-point lead with less than two minutes to play in regulation. After the Huskies tied it up, Wyoming’s offense gave true freshman Cooper Rothe a chance, but he missed a 48-yarder that would have won it. Though, to Rothe’s credit, he made the first attempt but was successfully iced by a NIU timeout.

In overtime, Wyoming linebacker Logan Wilson, a redshirt freshman from Natrona County, recovered a fumble on the Huskies’ first possession, meaning any score would give Wyoming a win. But the Cowboys’ overtime drive stalled with two incomplete passes and Rothe missed the 37-yard try.

Then, in the second overtime, Wyoming was unable to hold up the lead it earned with Brian Hill’s 5-yard rushing touchdown, as NIU quarterback Drew Hare answered with a 1-yard touchdown run.

But despite being a relatively youthful team — the Cowboys started 10 underclassmen Saturday — Wyoming didn’t show any signs of fatal immaturity.

“That was in the back of my mind,” Bohl said. “I believe they had the resolve and the belief. ... So many times when maybe we were here in the past, we would find a way to lose the game.”

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Instead, the Cowboys picked up their first season-opening win against a Football Bowl Subdivision team since 2008.

The Cowboys looked like an improved team in nearly all aspects, nowhere more apparent than in the defensive trenches. Last year, Wyoming allowed 225.2 rushing yards per game, 113th in the nation. Yet the Cowboys managed to hold 1,200-yard rusher Joel Bouagnon to 16 yards on 10 carries and NIU to 133 total rushing yards, overtimes included.

“A lot of those guys are really young players,” Bohl said of his defense. “They’re going to be here a long time, but there’s certainly more speed and more athleticism, and we’ve recruited better. I think guys really have an understanding and a purpose of what we’re doing.”

Kenny Golladay was the biggest pain in the side for Wyoming’s defense. The receiver scored NIU’s first three touchdowns and led the Huskies both in receiving, 144 yards receiving on 10 catches, and rushing, 82 yards on six carries. Jake Maulhardt (106 yards) and Tanner Gentry (104) paced the Wyoming receivers, and Hill led all rushers with 125 yards.

After Golladay’s second touchdown, a 34-yard run, kicker Christian Hagan missed the extra point.

That proved lucky for Wyoming, though the Cowboys gave the Huskies more than their fair share of breaks.

Wyoming lost two return touchdowns, one by kickoff returner D.J. May and one by punt returner Austin Conway, to penalties. And NIU’s first touchdown of the game, a 39-yard Hare-to-Golladay connection, never would have happened if not for an inexplicable personal foul on Carl Granderson. After Wyoming forced a punt on the Huskies’ opening drive, Granderson knocked down NIU punter Jake Ambrose significantly after the whistle had been blown for a false start.

Any of those mishaps could have baited a young team into losing focus. Instead, the Cowboys took advantage of one final NIU mistake: a missed 38-yard field goal by Hagan in triple overtime.

“This team is just something special, and I feel it,” said Allen, who threw his first two touchdowns at the Division-I level. “... To go what we went through tonight — we were up 27-20 and they scored, we had a little 2-minute drill and got into field-goal position and missed one, got a fumble in overtime, missed another field goal.

“It’s just this team’s perseverance that showed a lot. So this definitely will carry over, pick our confidence up for the next however many games to come.”

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Follow University of Wyoming athletics reporter Brandon Foster on Twitter @BFoster91

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Managing Editor

Brandon Foster is the Star-Tribune's managing editor. He joined the Star-Tribune in 2016 as the University of Wyoming sports reporter after graduating from the University of Missouri and covering Mizzou athletics for two years.

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