LARAMIE – All the Cowboy fans that had some fun at their Border War rival’s expense Friday night weren’t laughing in the fourth quarter Saturday afternoon at War Memorial Stadium.
Sean Chambers’ 21-yard touchdown pass to tight end Treyton Welch, who had to make a one-handed grab with a defender draped over his other arm, with 47 seconds left allowed Wyoming to escape with a 19-16 victory over Montana State.
The crowd of 27,007 let out a collective sight of relief after UW scored 16 fourth-quarter points to avoid an FCS-over-FBS upset.
Colorado State wasn’t as fortunate in its opener, a 42-23 loss to South Dakota State in Fort Collins. Eastern Washington also picked up a win over a Mountain West opponent with a 35-33 double-overtime victory at UNLV.
The Bobcats’ rival, Montana, stunned No. 20 Washington 13-7 in Seattle. The Huskies are considered to be a Pac-12 contender.
The SEC (Tennessee State defeated Vanderbilt) and American (UC Davis defeated Tulsa) were also among the victims of the six FCS teams that notched victories over FBS opponents.
UW head coach Craig Bohl, who collected some FBS pelts during his time at North Dakota State, was not surprised Brent Vigen’s talented Montana State squad pushed his team to the brink.
The Cowboys squeaked past previous FCS opponents Idaho (21-16) in 2019 and Wofford (17-14) in 2018.
“I know what it’s like to coach an FCS team. It seems like every time we play an FCS team it has been a margin of victory like this,” Bohl noted. “It’s also been my experience teams make their most improvement between their first and second games. That’s going to be important. We will be laboring on Labor Day.”
Bohl thought his offensive and defensive lines would have a decisive edge in the opener, but that was not the case.
UW averaged 3.5 yards per rush attempt while allowing Montana State to average 4.0 yards per attempt.
Isaiah Ifanse finished with 103 yards rushing (6.5 per carry) for the Bobcats. Xazavian Valladay had 77 yards (4.1 per carry) and a touchdown to lead the Cowboys.
The starting quarterbacks were both sacked twice.
Matthew McKay, a North Carolina State transfer, was 19-for-28 passing for 200 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions during Montana State’s first game in 623 days.
Chambers, who provided some late heroics after a rough start to his first game since suffering a season-ending injury in the 2020 opener, finished 15-for-26 passing for 196 yards with the last-minute touchdown and a first-quarter interception.
“It goes to show what we can do,” Chambers said of UW’s three scores in the final 13:36. “The bar has been set. We’ve got to meet that bar every time now.”
The Cowboys appear to have a difficult road hurdle to clear against Northern Illinois this Saturday in DeKalb, Ill. (11:30 a.m. Mountain Time, ESPN+).
The Huskies scored a touchdown with 38 seconds remaining and then made a 2-point conversion to topple Georgia Tech 22-21.
Northern Illinois, an 18 ½-point underdog, collected $1 million from the Yellow Jackets of the ACC.
“I’m excited about the resolve and the belief that our football team has,” Bohl said. “I’m not completely happy with some aspects of our performance. In all three phases, I think we can fix some things. But we’re 1-0 and getting ready to play the Huskies.”
Follow UW beat writer Ryan Thorburn on Twitter @By_RyanThorburn