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Wyoming Cowboys Start 0-3, Lose to Cal Poly 24-22

Colby Kirkegaard hands the ball off to Shaun Wick (Kari Eakins, Townsquare Media)

The University of Wyoming football team is off to an 0-3 start in 2012 after losing to Cal Poly 24-22 on Saturday in Laramie. It is UW’s first loss to a Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) team.

The Cowboys played without sophomore quarterback Brett Smith, who suffered a concussion in last week’s loss to Toledo. Junior Colby Kirkegaard started behind center, finishing the day 15-of-23 with one very costly interception late in the fourth quarter which sealed the game for Cal Poly. UW was only able to convert 2 of the 12 times they faced a third down.

Deonte Williams on a long touchdown run for Cal Poly (Kari Eakins, Townsquare Media)

Wyoming’s defense struggled early against Cal Poly’s triple option. The Mustang’s scored on their fourth play of the game when Deonte Williams ran 65 yards to the end zone. After a Wyoming three-and-out, a 74-yard scamper from Williams set up another Cal Poly touchdown and Wyoming was down 14-0 five minutes into the game.

Wyoming Head Coach Dave Christensen said, “Anytime you play somebody, and they’re a so-called underdog, and you give them momentum, it’s huge for them. Their confidence level goes up, and then we’re put in a position to play from behind. We took care of that in the first half, but we didn’t get it done the second half.”

UW found some life in the second quarter, sparked by a big punt return. A Jalen Claiborne punt return allowed Wyoming to start a drive on the Cal Poly 25 and the Pokes capitalized on the good field position, with Shaun Wick scoring his first career touchdown on a 1-yd run. A pass from Chris McNeill to Sonny Puletasi gave the Pokes the 2-pt conversion. On their next possession, the Kirkegaard hit Dominic Rufran with a 26-yd pass that led to another 1-yd touchdown run by Wick allowing UW to take a 15-14 lead that would last to halftime.

Halfway through the third quarter, Cal Poly grabbed the lead back on an 8 play, 40-yd drive capped off by a 5-yd touchdown pass. The defense for both teams smothered their opposites offense and the Pokes went into the fourth quarter down 21-15.

Facing fourth and four on the Wyoming 34, Cal Poly went for and made a 51-yd field goal to give the Mustangs a 24-15 lead with 9:49 left in the game. The long kick by Booby Zalud made the margin too wide for UW to overcome. Head Coach Tim Walsh said punting never crossed his mind on the play.

“We were either going to go for it or kick it,” commented Coach Walsh. “I just know he (Zalud) is that good. We practiced in Cheyenne and he was kicking 64-65 yard field goals.”

The Cowboy defense kept the Mustangs from adding to the scoreboard the rest of the game, but after UW scored on a Wick’s third touchdown (14 yards) of the game with 7:34 remaining, the Pokes couldn’t add anymore either. Wyoming got the ball with 1:37 left, but on the first play of the drive Kirkegaard was intercepted by Nico Molino at the Wyoming 40. Cal Poly took a knee three times and ran out the game clock.

Sophomore cornerback Blair Burns, who finished with two tackles and two pass break-ups said, “It’s always tough when you get one of those close games, and you just can’t figure out or pull it out in the end. You just go back to the drawing board tomorrow, make corrections and get ready for Idaho.”

Wyoming (0-3) had 137 rushing yards and 123 passing yards for 260 total yards. Wick led the team with 67 yards on the ground and 3 touchdowns. Cal Poly rushed for 325 yards and passed for 34 yards for 359 yards of total offense.

Wyoming will hit the road to take on Idaho on Saturday, September 22. The game will kick off at 3 p.m. with coverage beginning on KOWB at 2 p.m. Smith’s status is still uncertain.

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