LARAMIE – Wyoming fans were having some bad 2020 flashbacks for most of the afternoon.
Sean Chambers refused to succumb to the recurring nightmare and delivered a memorable victory to start the Cowboys’ next chapter.
After the offense sputtered for three quarters, much as it did throughout last year’s dreadful 2-4 finish, Chambers came through in the clutch by leading two fourth-quarter scoring drives.
UW’s 19-16 victory over Montana State may not be worthy of a spot in the Louvre, but the final drive was a masterpiece for Chambers that finally gave the crowd of 20,007 something to cheer about at War Memorial Stadium.
Chambers led an eight-play, 75-yard must-have march capped with a 21-yard touchdown pass to tight end Treyton Welch with 47 seconds remaining.
“I wasn’t nervous. I don’t even know how to describe it,” said Chambers, who suffered a season-ending injury on the third play of last year’s opener at Nevada. “I felt like this was after the 2019 season. This was the next season and it was like 2020 didn’t happen. It was weird. ...
“It was emotional today. I can’t find the words right now for it.”
Brent Vigen almost slipped out of town with an upset victory at Craig Bohl’s expense.
The Bobcats (0-1) were in control for most of the game but were unable to give Vigen, UW’s former offensive coordinator, a signature win in his debut as Montana State’s head coach.
A relieved Bohl rushed out on the field to hug his counterpart after time ran out on the visitors’ bid to get in position for a game-tying field goal.
“I know how Brent feels. I’ve lived that, and his heart certainly was ripped out,” Bohl said. “If there would have been a time that I would have liked Brent to win one, it would have been some other game than today. But if they would have won, I would have been happy for him.
“He’s a heck of a person and he’s going to be a great head coach. Today demonstrated out how he prepared that football team.”
Vigen’s replacement, first-year UW offensive coordinator Tim Polasek, had trouble dialing up the right plays to loosen up Montana State’s stout defense.
And when Chambers missed a wide open Alex Brown down the sideline for what would have been an easy touchdown in the third quarter, the audible gasps from the crowd seemed to suggest it might be the Bobcats’ day to pull off an FCS-over-FBS upset.
“The line of scrimmage is an area where I felt like we would have a huge advantage,” Bohl said. “I don’t know if I walked off the field and said we had a huge advantage. Maybe we had an advantage. If we had an advantage, it was very sleight. So there’s got to be a lot of work to do in a short amount of time.”
Montana State returned the ensuing punt for a touchdown, but a block in the back penalty nullified the score and pinned the visitors back at their own 8-yard line.
That swing opened the door for a UW comeback.
Chambers delivered a strike to Ayden Eberhardt for a 22-yard gain to get the Cowboys in the red zone, and pass-interference and taunting penalties against Montana State defensive end Daniel Hardy moved the chains on a third-and-9.
Xazavian Valladay gave UW its first lead of the season, 9-7, on a 2-yard run with 13:36 remaining. The extra point was botched after a bad snap.
“Sean, in all the situations we’ve been having in fall camp, the confidence has been building up and he’s leading us in the right direction,” Valladay said. “We do have a lot of work to do and we need to get in the film room. But it starts with our quarterback and the confidence he has in leading this offense.”
Isaiah Ifanse broke off a pair of 21-yard runs to get freshman Blake Glessner close enough to make a 53-yard field goal that gave the Bobcats a 10-9 lead with 10:23 remaining.
The Cowboys answered with Chambers finding Alex Brown for seven yards to convert a third-and-4, Valladay breaking through the line for three yards on fourth-and-1 and Eberhardt hauling in a 39-yard reception to set up a first-and-goal.
UW settled for a 25-yard field goal by John Hoyland to retake the lead, 12-10, with 4:03 remaining.
The unflappable Bobcats calmly went on a 6-play, 75-yard drive that included a facemask penalty against the Cowboys, a 30-yard reception by Lance McCutcheon and a 1-yard touchdown grab by Treyton Pickering to make the score 16-12 with 2:17 on the clock.
McKay’s 2-point conversion attempt failed ahead of the Cowboys’ eight-play, 75-yard scoring drive.
The moment Chambers has been waiting nearly two years for had arrived.
“I’m kind of getting goose bumps right now talking about it. Confident,” Eberhardt said when asked about Chambers’ demeanor in the huddle before the final drive. “We replicated that scenario so many times before leading up to this exact moment. So everyone was confident going into it.”
Chambers started the sequence with an 8-yard run and then threw a 24-yard strike to Joshua Cobbs, one of the eight different players he completed a pass to.
On third-and-3 at the Montana State 36-yard line, Chambers found Parker Christensen for 9 yards.
Before the game-winner, which came on a third-and-4, Welch had a feeling his Chambers would be targeting him to be the hero of the day.
“It’s a play that we’ve really been focusing on,” Welch said. “Before the play, I think Sean and I both knew I was going to be the first read on that. It was racing through my head for sure.”
Chambers and the Cowboys (1-0) saved their best for last. It’s a start.
Follow UW beat writer Ryan Thorburn on Twitter @By_RyanThorburn