LOGAN, Utah – Where has this team been hiding?
The explosive plays in the passing game, special teams fireworks and a historic run that were missing for the bulk of the Mountain West season helped Wyoming get bowl eligible and reclaim more rivalry hardware on Saturday night.
The Cowboys beat Mountain Division-leading Utah State in all three phases during a 44-17 victory in front of a shell-shocked crowd of 20,547 at Maverik Stadium.
"It’s been a long time coming, I can tell you that," UW head coach Craig Bohl said. "And this is what we wanted. I think we hit our stride."
To say the least.
Levi Williams passed for 242 yards and two touchdowns; Titus Swen rushed for 169 yards, including a school-record 98-yard back-breaking touchdown; and Cameron Stone returned a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown to lead the long list of highlights for the Cowboys (6-5, 2-5).
UW had two wide receivers – Joshua Cobbs (career-high 76 yards, one touchdown) and Isaiah Neyor (125 yards, one touchdown) – score in the same game for the first time this season.
And it was the second time the Cowboys had two 100-yard rushers – Swen and Xazavian Valladay (145 yards) – in the same game this season.
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The Pokes had a 604-362 advantage in total yards. That’s the most offensive yards in a game for UW since Craig Bohl’s 2014 team piled up 696 against Fresno State.
"I’m just so proud of this team sticking together," Williams said after completing 80% of his passes (12-for-15). "There’s a lot of people that can slander us and stuff like that. At the end of the day, it’s what we believe. We believed that we could beat that team.
"That was a really good team we played against, and we just played better than them today.
The Cowboys, who reclaimed the Bronze Boot with a 31-17 win over Colorado State in their previous conference win, grabbed Jim Bridger’s Rifle after spoiling senior night for the Aggies (8-3, 5-2).
On the first possession of the second half, a Utah State field goal attempt was botched due to a high snap. C.J. Coldon recovered the fumble for a loss of 19 yards.
Then Swen, who had to be helped off the field in the second quarter, ran for a 43-yard touchdown to give the Cowboys a 31-17 lead with 11:56 remaining in the third quarter.
"That drive out of halftime can make you or break you. I feel like that drive is the most important when the game is close," Coldon said after finishing with seven tackles, a key pass breakup and the fumble recovery. "I just feel like it was meant to be. We went out and played well and made plays when they came."
After Utah State punter Stephen Kotsanlee pinned the Pokes at their own 2-yard line, Swen broke through the middle of the line and rumbled from one goal line through the other to give UW a 41-17 lead with 1:29 left in the third quarter.
The reaction from the Utah State radio play-by-play booth – “Oh, no! Devastating!” – could be heard through the walls in the press box.
Swen’s 98-yard scoring scamper broke the record of 95 yards by Nate Scott against Central Michigan in 2000. The sophomore had an 87-yard run against CSU from the shadow of his own goal line but did not score on the play.
"I was just thinking, ‘I can’t let the people of Wyoming down,’" Swen said. "I told them if I ever broke out like that again I was going to score, and that’s what I had to do."
John Hoyland added a 34-yard field goal, his third of the game, with 6:13 remaining.
Free safety Isaac White, making his third consecutive start for an injured Esaias Gandy, intercepted Logan Bonner with 3:52 remaining.
"I thought we were really explosive with our defensive front putting pressure on the quarterback," Bohl said. "I don’t know how many times we hit him, but we hit him a lot."
UW was credited for five official hits on the bruised and battered Bonner, who was 19-for-40 for 181 yards and two touchdowns.
The score was tied 14-14 at the end of the first quarter after the teams combined for four touchdowns in 5:08 of clock time.
Williams connected with Neyor for a 40-yard touchdown to give the Cowboys a 7-0 lead. It was the first time UW had scored first in a game since the 45-12 win over Ball State on Sept. 18.
Utah State answered with an 11-play, 75-yard drive capped with a 10-yard strike from Bonner to Brandon Bowling.
Stone took the ensuing kickoff to the house to give the visitors a 14-7 lead 13 seconds after Bowling’s touchdown.
UW had only returned 13 kickoffs all season with a long of 37 yards entering Saturday’s game. It was the first kickoff return for a touchdown for the Cowboys since Tyler Hall’s 95-yard score against Texas State in 2017.
"I don’t know what hole was bigger, parting the sea or that one," Stone said. "What can I say, they let me walk in there basically."
The momentum was short-lived as Bonner threw a 41-yard touchdown pass to Biletnikoff Award semifinalist Deven Thompkins with 2:39 remaining in the first quarter.
Jordan Bertagnole forced a fumble by Elelyon Noa, which was recovered by White at the UW 43-yard line.
Williams completed a nice back-shoulder throw to Wyatt Wieland for 23 yards and had the Cowboys in the red zone again when senior safety Shaq Bond came up with a spectacular interception at the 2-yard line.
After UW’s defense forced a three-and-out, Williams moved the chains with a sneak on fourth-and-1 and then connected with Joshua Cobbs for a 17-yard touchdown to make the score 21-14 with 6:50 remaining in the half.
Defensive end Jaylen Pate planted Bonner into the artificial turf short of the sticks on a third down.
Williams completed a 19-yard pass to Cobbs, Valladay had a 21-yard scamper and tight end Treyton Welch added an 18-yard reception on UW’s next possession.
Swen suffered a non-contact injury making a cut for a 2-yard loss and offensive lineman Zach Watts pounced on Valladay’s fumbled as the drive bogged down.
Hoyland (28 yards with 1:48 left) and counterpart Connor Coles (36 yards with 7 seconds left) exchanged field goals just before the half as the Cowboys headed to the locker room with a 24-17 lead.
The Aggies, who fell to 5-3 when trailing at the intermission this season, would not get any closer and surrendered the rifle without much of a fight after UW exploded for 243 yards in the third quarter.
"We had a big celebration in the locker room, and I even danced with that rifle a little bit," Bohl said. "A lot of our old fans remember those rivalry games. I know coach (Blake) Anderson didn’t know they had a traveling trophy, and they had it.
"Well, it’s back where it belongs and it needs to be in Laramie."
Follow UW beat writer Ryan Thorburn on Twitter @By_RyanThorburn